The ships arrived as part of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue, a program set up with a number of non-NATO Mediterranean countries, including Egypt and Jordan, to foster political dialogue and consultation.
But senior IDF officers said the NATO mission was designed to strengthen ties between Israel and the alliance and to look into possibilities for future military cooperation.
At a press conference onboard a Spanish freighter Brig.Gen. Yochai Ben Yosef said the visit marked another step in advancing the relationship between NATO and the IDF.
Speaking on behalf of NATO forces, Brig.Gen. Lopez Calderon said the purpose of the visit was to strengthen ties with Israeli civilian and military authorities. He stressed that NATO forces maintain a high level of readiness, with the ability to deploy forces at any time and in any region within a 3000 nautical mile radius.
Next month’s naval exercise will take place in the Black Sea off the coast of Romania. According to Reuters, the exercise will involve simulated combat between missile boat fleets as well as search-and-rescue drills.
Ben Yosef said the goal of Israel’s participation in the maneuver was for the IDF to learn to work with NATO forces operating in the region.
Israel has previously only been allowed to observe such exercises.
An Israeli analyst for Jane’s Defense Weekly, Alon Ben David, told Reuters that Israel has been seeking to broaden its cooperation with foreign armies in preparation for a possible conflict with Iran. As Iran gets closer to attaining nuclear weapons, its leader has repeatedly called for wiping Israel off the map.
Military analysts have speculated that Israel would apply for membership in the NATO alliance, but IDF officials have indicated that formal membership would limit Israel’s ability to apply military force independently, as it sees fit.
At this stage, broader military cooperation with NATO serves Israel’s interests, and may bolster Israel strategically should it decide to act unilaterally against Iran’s nuclear capability.
In another move to enhance military ties, a NATO delegation brought AWACS surveillance aircraft to Israel a few months ago in an effort step up cooperation in the war on terrorism.
NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was set up by the United States after World War II as a means of binding Western European countries into a military alliance to deter the Soviet Union from expanding its sphere of influence in Europe. An attack on one NATO country is considered an attack on all member states, theoretically requiring all NATO members to go to war.
U.S. President George W. Bush told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Washington last week that the U.S. would rally to Israel’s defense if that nation is attacked.