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May 4, 2016 6:00 pm

Expert: ‘Image of Israel as Isolated State Is Gone’ With Upgraded NATO Status

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NATO headquarters in Brussels. Photo: NATO.

NATO headquarters in Brussels. Photo: NATO.

“The image of Israel as an isolated state is gone,” an Israel-NATO expert told The Algemeiner on Wednesday, following this week’s announcement of the country’s upgraded status by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Zaki Shalom, a senior research fellow at the Tel Aviv-based think tank the Institute for National Security Studies, explained why NATO’s decision has important connotations. While the announcement “has no significant military implications,” Shalom said, the upgrade is a “recognition by NATO of the impressive abilities of Israel in science, technology and intelligence.”

“The upgrade now provides Israel with better conditions to export her tools and arms and better opportunities to enhance relations with Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt,” Shalom said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauded NATO’s decision at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, stating, “This is a goal that we have worked on for many years. The countries of the world are looking to cooperate with us due to — inter alia — our determined fight against terrorism, our technological know-how and our intelligence services.”

NATO’s announcement is “also an indication that tension between Israel and Turkey is over, or almost over,” Shalom said. Relations between Israel and Turkey — a full NATO member — deteriorated after Turkey downgraded its status with Israel following a 2010 Israeli raid on Turkish ships attempting to break through Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Nine Turks were killed during the incident, during which “Free Gaza” activists attacked Israeli soldiers with weapons and threw some overboard.

Over the last six years, Turkey has blocked all of Israel’s attempts to upgrade its status within the alliance. However, since December, both countries have worked on restoring their military and diplomatic ties. This week’s announcement is being interpreted as a sign that relations between the two are continuing to warm.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters on Wednesday that his country’s decision to support the NATO upgrade “isn’t only about Israel. It is about providing the same right to all southern partners” in the Middle East.

Israel is one of more than a dozen countries designated by the US as a major non-NATO ally. In 2001, Israel signed a security agreement with the alliance. With its new status, Israel will now open a permanent office at NATO headquarters in Brussels, to be headed by the country’s ambassador to the European Union. The statuses of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Jordan were also upgraded by NATO.

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