OPINION - Ronald S. Lauder: Why Israel should become a member of NATO

The following opinion article by World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder was published by the German newspaper 'Die Welt' on 8 February 2011. Read the original version here.


Why Israel should become a member of NATO

By Ronald S. Lauder

Who would have thought a few weeks ago that a handful of demonstrators in Tunisia would be apple to topple not only the regime there, but also trigger a movement which is now shaking Egypt and the rest of the Arab world? This once again shows what forces a people’s desire for freedom, democracy and economic participation can unleash. However, it also shows how unpredictable developments in the Middle East are and what surprises that unstable region has in store. NATO – founded in 1949 to defend Western values against Communism – is today facing new challenges. Be it Islamist terrorism, which attacks the same values, be it the quest for power and influence by countries that have no respect for democracy and freedom. We still need to uphold and defend our basic principles and our Western way of life. If not, NATO might as well be dissolved.

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Civil rights, including freedom of religious worship, are safeguarded there. People can choose their leaders in free elections, and the courts check that the laws of the lands are respected by all. All this happens in spite of the fact that the external conditions for a Western-style democracy are much more challenging in the Middle East than in, for instance, America or Germany.

On an almost daily basis, Israel is facing terrorist threats. The right of the only Jewish state in the world to exist is questioned all the time. The threat is real: Israel is encircled by enemies, with two exceptions: Egypt and Jordan. No wonder that the Israelis are worried about developments in the Arab world. They are witnessing the slow but seemingly unstoppable rise of Hezbollah to power in Lebanon. They know what happened after the Shah in Iran – who was not a good ruler either – was toppled: an even worse regime, that of the ayatollahs, took over, and its declared aim is to wipe Israel off the map.

The Israelis also know that despite the lamentable domestic situation in Egypt, the Mubarak government – backed up by the US – was a reliable partner of successive Israeli governments in the quest for stability and peace in the Middle East. Europe, too, could rely on a stable partner in Cairo. The Europeans were thus relieved of the need to honour their solemn declarations in support of Israel through actions. Europe only did the minimum to support Israel, perhaps because it did not want to jeopardise its economic interests in the wider Arab world. Europe only reluctantly took part in the peace process. Yes, it generously gave money to the Palestinians (sometimes without asking for what purpose those funds were used) in order to stabilize the Palestinian Authority. And yet, when the going became tough Europe often took the backseat and resorted to demanding unrealistic concessions, mostly from Israel.

This will not be possible in the future. Europe needs to say what it wants. Lofty declarations regarding Israel’s right to live in peace and security are not enough. Israel needs real guarantees for its security. This also means that European NATO member states – including Turkey – must admit the State of Israel into the Western alliance. This would send a strong signal to other countries not to take on Israel. It would be a signal that would be understood throughout the world – including the Islamic world. Not to send such a signal or to discard it as totally unrealistic or counterproductive will be perceived by the enemies of the West as an encouragement to further intensify their assault on the Jewish state. Nothing could be more harmful to the peace process in the Middle East.

It is not the Egyptian people that are posing a danger for the region. Egypt is a nation with a remarkable history. However, it is not yet clear that the young people who now take to the streets will eventully be allowed to determine their own destiny. Too many regimes in the region are only waiting to increase their influence in the most important Arab country – not least Iran, which already sponsors terror against Israel from Lebanon and Gaza.

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