As world leaders gathered at the 2010 NATO summit in Lisbon, much of the attention was naturally given to whether the overall Afghan war strategy was working. In particular, while the head of U.S. Central Command General David Petraeus argued that the Atlantic Alliance had "broken the Taliban's momentum" following a series of targeted strikes against militant strongholds in the southern Afghan Helmand province, many European leaders nonetheless insisted on a 2014 withdrawal date of combat forces from that country. Yet, in addition to discussing the overarching mission of the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), few summit delegates seemed to openly acknowledge that in the event NATO would fail in Af-Pak, the Alliance's credibility will be at stake. Secondly, as Iran is aggressively seeking to exert its influence from Afghanistan to the Gaza strip, neither NATO nor Israel can afford an embolden Teheran dictating regional relations while trumping up global extremism.
Why Israel should join NATO
Just like the momentous historical events leading to the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe called for the Western Alliance to redraw its strategic roadmap, so too did the September 11 terrorist attacks force NATO to redefine its reason d'être. As Western interests beyond the Levant and the Af-Pak tribal belt continues to be threatened by Al Qaida and other radical groups, Israeli NATO membership could significantly enhance the Alliance's overall combat and intelligence gathering process' critically needed to fight international terrorism, extremism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Moreover, given the Jewish state's vital geographical location, Israel has found itself center stage of a strategic crossroads between an East-West and North-South nexus. Similarly, as Lisbon participants discussed broader missile defense strategies as part of a wider effort to deter Iran, Israel again could play a pivotal role by cementing its strong intelligence-to-intelligence cooperation with Western spy organizations by officially joining the Alliance.
While critics of NATO membership may point to a longstanding and well-established tradition of Israeli intelligence cooperation with other Western nations, it should be noted that Iran's nuclear program is not the only strategic threat the Jewish state is facing. In fact, according to Israeli policy planners, the state face an equally severe treat scenario posed by a campaign of delegitimization seeking to uproot the very legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise. Hence, as Israel could face increasing international isolation should it not be perceived as being a peace-seeking nation, the Jewish state despite its impressive military might could become increasingly vulnerable within the UN and other multilateral organizations. By joining the Western Alliance, aside from directly benefiting from additional security guarantees stipulated by NATO's Article Five, Israeli membership could also serve the state's long-term diplomatic interests by strengthening its standing within the international arena.
Obama, Turkey and NATO
So far, while analysts and experts all seem to agree on the many benefits a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian treaty could have for the region, some observers have warned against linking broader U.S. strategic interests to the Middle East peace process. Yet, it should be noted that without a grand vision, Washington will be unable to advance regional peace beyond brokering a three month extension of the West Bank wide settlement freeze. In particular, as the U.S. administration is ambitiously pushing for a comprehensive Middle East treaty, President Obama's "moment of truth" will be whether he can resolve the present unresolved Turkish-Israeli crisis. Hence, while the 2003 "Saudi Peace Initiative" coupled with Israeli NATO membership equally presents a strategic opportunity for the Jewish state and the broader Euro-Atlantic community to deter Iran and international extremism; no meaningful progress can be made without Ankara's blessing. (As of today, the Turkish army is the second largest standing army within NATO after the United States).
Lastly, acknowledging the challenge presented by Ankara, President Obama has little choice but to invest significant political capital in restoring confidence between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu. Preserving the status-quo, especially after the Turkish National Security Council allegedly added Israel to its list of strategic threats while removing Syria underscores the importance of a strong and capable NATO and why multilateralism cannot fail in Afghanistan.