Some pundits have used Iran’s apparent quest for an atomic weapon as an excuse to push, with a straight face, the silly idea of inducting Israel into NATO. The idea is not just absurd because NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and Israel is nowhere near the North Atlantic, but because Israeli security has never been better and doesn’t need NATO protection. Furthermore, U.S. security would be undermined by admitting Israel into NATO.
How can Israel be fairly secure when a radical Islamic state seems likely to be seeking a nuclear capability? Israel’s security has never been better, because its existence is no longer threatened by any strong bordering enemy, as it was for years by hostile bordering nation-states. And although Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, it is a relatively weak terrorist group that can only occasionally terrorize Israelis with a suicide bombing. Although devastating to the victims and their loved ones, most Israelis are hardened to this fact of life; suicide attacks are a mere pinprick to the Israeli government. Besides, the Israelis could get rid of this manageable security problem rather quickly if they simply traded land for peace and gave the Palestinians a viable state.
Most real threats to Israel’s existence have long evaporated. Israel has been at peace with its most populous and dangerous immediate neighborEgyptfor almost three decades. It is also at peace with Jordan, a much weaker Arab bordering neighbor. Syria, the only nation-state bordering Israel that remains hostile, long ago lost its Soviet benefactor. Thus, unlike the Israelis, the Syrians have been unable to modernize their military. Furthermore, Israel, with a much larger economy than Syria, is able to outspend Syria on defense by more than a 10:1 ratio. Like Hamas, Hezbollah, a militant Islamist group operating in southern Lebanon and aided by Syria and Iran, conducts sporadic pinprick attacks on Israel. Hezbollah has won representatives in Lebanon’s parliament and has even shown signs of moderation. Similarly, now that Hamas has control of the Palestinian parliament, there is a possibility that it too might become more moderate.
One of the few possible significant future threats to Israel is Iran. Although advocates of admitting Israel into NATOsuch as Ron Asmus, former Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs under President Clintonhave made much of this threat, they have grossly exaggerated the danger. Iran does not have a border with Israel, making a ground invasion extremely difficult. Besides, Israel has an annual defense budget that is more than twice that of Iran. Although Iran has missiles that can hit Israel and is probably working on a nuclear weapon, Iran will probably not have the “bomb” for five to ten years. Even then, Iran will have only a small number of warheads. Although Israel is coy about its nuclear arsenal, experts estimate that it has 200 or more atomic weapons. This arsenal will long deter any potentially hostile state from unleashing a nuclear attack on Israel.
Because threats to Israel’s security have diminished over time, and Israel is wealthy compared with its immediate neighbors, it does not need NATO protection. NATO membership would obligate the United Statesthe security guarantor in NATOand its feckless European allies to help Israel battle Hamas and other radical groups in the streets of Palestine. The United States is already involved in two quagmires in Islamic nationsIraq and Afghanistan. It doesn’t need to further inflame radical Islamist terrorists around the world by also helping Israel occupy Palestine. If you think anti-U.S. Islamist terrorism is bad now, try waving this red flag in front of the bull.
Thus, admitting Israel into NATO would reduce U.S. security, not enhance it. This bizarre idea should be put to bed at once.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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