The bilateral relationship between the Atlantic Alliance and Israel is extremely wide and diversified. Traditionally, Israel has been one of the most active members of the Mediterranean Dialogue (MD) since its creation at the 1994 Istanbul Summit. For instance, Israel was the first MD Country to finalise an Individual Cooperation Programme (ICP), as a specific agreement aimed at tailoring the relationship of the Alliance with a partner so to meet its needs and develop its potentialities, although in full coherence with the overall scope of NATO Partnerships.
After a number of years in which Israel used to carry out most of the MD initiatives implemented with the support of the Alliance, it never ceased to play the role of a path-finder in identifying new avenues of co-operation so to face the emerging security challenges.
Within the framework of practical collaboration, Israel is engaged to actively participate in a broad range of activities promoted by NATO in many fields like training of forces, planning of civil crisis management, military-to-military cooperation, fight against WMD proliferation, research and development of new instruments to protect forces and assets against attacks by Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), intelligence-sharing, fight against terrorism, investments in the field of Defence procurement, and many others.
Italy remains deeply convinced that Israel has all the capabilities to be a front-runner in the practical cooperation and the political dialogue with the Atlantic Alliance. In Israel, indeed, we recognise a mature democracy, enriched by vibrant parliamentary institutions, based on respect for minorities and minority rights, with a strong vocation for international competition and market economy, as well as a deeply rooted set of shared values which permeate the civil society and give substance to the links of Israel with the entire Atlantic community.
Furthermore, Israel is deeply rooted in the Mediterranean region. So it shares with Italy a common belonging, a heritage of culture and history which dates back to the origins of our civilisation.
Being deeply aware of the relevance of such a promising pattern of collaboration between Israel and the Alliance, and strongly committed to the global endeavour against the current threats to peace and security, including in the Mediterranean, Italy has actively pursued its ambition to be attributed the role of NATO Contact Point Embassy in Israel for the biennium 2011-2012.
It is an honour and a professional challenge for me to fulfil this task during my term as Ambassador of Italy to Israel. The first months of my engagement in this capacity have been demanding and rewarding. Last February the Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, came to Israel where he met the main political leaders and took part in the 2011 Herzliya Conference (which this year included also a Round Table focussing on “NATO after the Lisbon Summit“).
As a timely follow-up to this visit, last May the NATO Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs, Ambassador Dirk Brengelmann, visited Israel and had fruitful discussions with the Israeli partners on ways and means to implement the big opportunities for cooperation which were opened at the NATO Lisbon Summit by the decision to make all Partnerships tools fully accessible to each and any Partner of the Atlantic Alliance, regardless of the respective frameworks for cooperation.
As a positive result of the Italian commitment to enhance the relationship of Israel with NATO, within the framework of Mediterranean Dialogue (the so-called “28 + 7” format), on the September 15th and 16th this year, we hosted at Sanremo the first meeting of the Policy Advisory Group in the Mediterranean Dialogue format. The initiative represents an important leap of quality in the political dialogue among the Allies and their Mediterranean partners, given the informal and forward-looking nature of this forum for discussion (regulated by Chatam House rules). In addition, the Sanremo meeting marked a positive turning point, since it allowed recognizing the unanimous will of all Partners to re-launch the Mediterranean Dialogue, as well as their readiness to outline ways and means to enhance it in the run-up to the NATO Summit to be held in Chicago.
I am confident that the years to come will show to what extent the cooperation between NATO and Israel – both within the Mediterranean Dialogue and on a bilateral base – can be fruitful and mutually beneficial. First and foremost, it should aim at reinforcing the political dialogue dimension, which is so relevant in the light of the profound transformations set in motion on a regional scale.
Against that background, the very format of the Mediterranean Dialogue established at the NATO initiative offers an added value which so far remains unique and unequalled in the international arena. The tailor-made approach adopted by NATO in its relationships with Partners maintains all its merits and it will continue to find a wide range of applications with regard to Israel, a Country extremely well-prepared to explore fresh opportunities for collaboration on a “NATO plus 1” basis, notably in the military-to-military sector.
NATO is a living creature that is striving all the time to adjust its methods and capabilities to the emerging threats to international peace and security. In such a global endeavour, the place for Partners like Israel is beside the Atlantic Alliance. I am happy to have been given the opportunity to make my contribution to this end.