Wednesday, February 15, 2006

An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Extend NATO Membership to Israel

If I had a nickel for every time I am the last to see or know anything, I would have been able to retire at least five years ago. Thanks to Everyman Chronicles for bringing to my attention this opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.
Israel's NATO membership has been mooted before, but the suggestion is especially compelling as a response to the Iranian nuclear threat. Iran's apocalyptic President Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," and influential former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has said an Islamic bomb "would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world."

Those are unprecedented threats, which are all the more likely to be carried out if the mullahs think that the only retaliation would come from Israel itself. It may be that the mad mullahs aren't deterrable, since they claim to welcome mass martyrdom. But if Israel were part of NATO, the saner elements in Tehran would at least have to worry about the collective response of the West. Only last week President Bush promised that the U.S. would come to Israel's defense against Iran, but the NATO proposal has the additional virtue of forcing Europe to take a firmer stand against an Iranian bomb.

Many Europeans will object that NATO is a geographic defense pact, but it has already expanded its field of operation beyond Europe into Afghanistan. If NATO is going to continue to be relevant, it has to adapt to confront new threats to global stability, and a nuclear Iran certainly qualifies. It's fanciful for Europe to think it could stay aloof from an Iranian strike against Israel or the U.S., since the latter would surely retaliate and wider regional war would ensue. Iran is also developing ballistic missiles that will eventually have the capitals of Europe within range.

Even apart from the Iranian threat, a strong case can be made for Israeli membership. Israel is a liberal democracy, which is why nobody seriously worries about Israel's bomb. The Jewish state has also taken unprecedented steps for peace with its Palestinian neighbors over the past decade, relinquishing territory even as it became clear that there was little good faith on the other side. Ariel Sharon's Gaza withdrawal and the subsequent victory of Hamas in Palestinian legislative elections are more than enough reason for the rest of the world to now reciprocate with a gesture of solidarity regarding Israel's defense.

I really like the idea of extending NATO membership to Israel. If that can’t put a serious mull into the hearts, minds and trigger fingers of a few Mullah’s - then nothing will short of death will. No doubt the Saudis, a few other Arab league nations and Old Europe will balk large about it, but so what? Besides having a pipeline straight into Israeli intelligence, the tactical expertise would be worth more than the aggravation factor from a few professional diplomatic whiners.

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