NATO mulls Israel's warship offer despite Turkey's opposition
BRUSSELS - The Associated Press
NATO photoNATO said Friday it is considering an Israeli offer to contribute a warship to the alliance's naval patrol in the Mediterranean, despite Turkey's opposition.
NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the offer is being evaluated "according to NATO procedures and operation requirements." In the past, Israeli warships and air force jets have joined in some NATO exercises, but Israel's participation in the naval operation would the first time its armed forces have taken part in one of the alliance's military operations.
Israel is a member of the Mediterranean Dialogue, a NATO outreach program with seven friendly nations bordering on that waterway. Romero said the alliance is prepared to enhance practical cooperation with all partner nations in the region, including Israel.
Some NATO governments have opposed past attempts to forge closer cooperation with Israel, saying that could hurt the alliance's relations with other Muslim states, including Afghanistan, which remains NATO's top operational priority.
The naval patrols known as Operation Active Endeavor and usually including four warships were launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The operation was initially restricted to member nations but since 2004 has included vessels from partner nations.
In Ankara, a Turkish foreign ministry official on Friday confirmed an Israeli news report that his nation, a key NATO ally and its only Muslim-majority member, has rejected Israel's plan to contribute a navy frigate to the operation, which is aimed at curbing terrorism in the Mediterranean Sea. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with government rules.
Ties between Israel and Turkey have been strained since 2010, when Israeli commandos raiding a Turkish protest ship headed for Gaza killed nine pro-Palestinian activists.
NATO currently has about 40 partner nations, including Australia, India, Japan, Pakistan and Russia. Its partnerships include ones with European non-NATO countries, the Mediterranean basin and Persian Gulf states.
NATO's treaty requires the alliance to militarily defend members nations, but not partner ones. Still, partner states regularly contribute to NATO operations such as those in Afghanistan and naval missions off Somalia and in the Mediterranean Sea.