The Wall Street Journal poses an interesting question in yesterday's issue. It's something that has been batted about in academic circles for a bit, but it hasn't seriously been considered until now. There are people who want to enlarge NATO. That's nothing new. Turkey has been considered, then former Communist Bloc countries, and even pieces of the former Soviet Union (most notably Ukraine). Now, with Iran having a hardliner as President and restarting its nuclear program with the express purpose of wiping Israel off the map, people are considering inviting Israel into NATO. While this sounds ridiculous, it's a very realist view. The thinking goes that if Israel is part of NATO, then it will provide a greater deterrent to the Iranian mullahs, because you could, in theory, eliminate the Israeli nuclear stockpiles with several well placed nuclear bombs of your own. However, if they were a part of NATO, and NATO's charter specifically says that if one member is attacked, all are attacked, then there are approximately 10,000 nuclear weapons to retaliate with. There are still issues, however. Quoting from the Journal:
The majority of NATO's 26 members still firmly opposes Israeli membershipThose issues would have to be worked out, but it's nothing that's un-workoutable, especially with the continued issues revolving around the Mohammed cartoons. From the Journal again:
as too polarizing both within the organization and among Mideast players.
Belgium and France, for example, are far from ready for territorial defense of
Tel Aviv. For their part, Israeli leaders, after years of self-reliance, are
divided on whether to trust any security guarantee other than their own --
particularly if it comes from Europeans, whom Israelis consider traditionally
pro-Arab and historically anti-Semitic.
The cartoon controversy has been a wake-up call to Europeans, who
increasingly view the danger from Islamists to be much broader than an anti-U.S.
phenomenon. Europeans are coming to see the threat as geographically closer to
them than to the U.S. and domestically more dangerous because of extremists
within their unintegrated minority populations.
I am for Israeli membership in NATO. It's a smart move in a lot of respects. It gives NATO a credible partner in the Middle East, and assuming that Iraq continues its march toward democracy, it could pave the way for Iraqi entrance into NATO as well (also assuming that they won't freak out being in the same alliance as Israel). It could help to stabilize the region, and it helps Israel back down from their current first strike policy if they feel threatened.
There are problems too, however. The first one is that it may not deter Iran. With the way that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is acting, it may not work. He may destroy Tel Aviv and a good portion of Israel (I don't see Jerusalem being destroyed due to its cultural significance to Islam) even with the knowledge that soon thereafter Tehran and the rest of Iran would be uninhabitable for decades. He may bank on the Russians coming to his aid, mimicing the old Cold War spheres again, just in a new arena, and with Putin at the helm, I wouldn't be surprised if that did happen. Finally, it could be seen as one more piece of evidence about what Robert Fisk terms "The Plot" (everybody against the Arabs).
Right now everybody's taking it slow, and that's exactly how it should be. There are a lot of variables that need to be looked at before we move this direction, but I think that in the end it's a wise decision.