BRUSSELS – President Isaac Herzog met Thursday afternoon with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, at the organization’s headquarters in Brussels. The meeting with Stoltenberg concluded Herzog’s two-day visit to the Belgian capital.
After meeting Stoltenberg, Herzog was received at the North Atlantic Council, which is the principal political decision-making body within NATO. It was the first time that an Israeli president met with NATO ambassadors at the NATO headquarters.
Greeting Herzog, Stoltenberg said that ‘’This is a historic visit marking the first time the president of Israel addresses NATO allies, it’s a sign of deepening partnership. For almost 30 years, Israel and NATO worked closely together in many different areas, including science and technology, counter-terrorism, civil preparedness, counter-weapons of mass destruction and security and many more areas. I look forward to discussing ways of strengthening our cooperation, including on climate change, innovation and new technologies, and also to discuss our support for Ukraine.’’
Stoltenberg then said that ‘’this is also about defending our values. Iran is delivering support to Russia, including drones that are used to attack civilians, infrastructure, homes and hospitals in Ukraine. In return, Russia is stepping up its support of Iran. And at the same time, it is stepping up its cooperation with other authoritarian states such as China and North Korea. As we see growing cooperation among authoritarian states, it is more important than ever to stand up for freedom, and democracy.’’
What did Herzog say?
Herzog commended the increasingly deep ties between Israel and NATO, ‘’through frequent visits and consultations, concrete strides like stationing an Israeli liaison to MARCOM, and through joint training and projects that bring us closer and position us to act more effectively.’’
Israel’s president referred to the emerging threats and challenges Israel and NATO allies are confronted with in recent years, ‘’from space and cybersecurity, you mentioned the climate correctly, to armed drones, energy resilience, and so many other fields. In all of these areas, the deepening Israel-NATO partnership is a precious asset. Our collaboration is strengthening the security of the citizens of NATO member countries, of Israel, and of like-minded, peace-loving nations around the world.’’
On the issue of the Tehran regime, Herzog repeated the same message he had delivered earlier in his visit to the Belgian King Philippe, the President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, that the Iranian threat is now at Europe’s doorstep. ‘’In Israel, the danger is clear, present, and real, and we have been saying it for decades, and we really hope and expect the international community and NATO to implement into action,’’ noted the president.
Herzog raised the issue of the bodies of two IDF soldiers – Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, and the two Israeli nationals – Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed – held by Hamas. ‘’It is a disturbing portrait of a fundamentalist worldview that runs counter to every human value we seek to uphold. Recently, Hamas released a video of Mr. Avera Mengistu, an Ethiopian-born Israeli citizen, begging and praying for his release,’’ said Herzog.
Herzog then added that ‘’Iran tightening its hold on European soil, the illusion of distance can no longer hold. NATO must take the strongest possible stance against the Iranian regime, including through economic, legal, and political sanctions, and credible military deterrence. This is critical for the stability of the Middle East, for Europe and the world. And it is also critical for the future of the Iranian people, who deserve civil rights, human rights, and a future for their children.’’
The relations between Israel and NATO have strengthened significantly in the past three years. While the Mediterranean Dialogue format (which includes Israel and Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa) had somewhat lost its attractivity, Israel is now considered by the Alliance as a like-minded country and as a security provider. In other words, NATO is interested in stepping up its cooperation with Israel in fields of technological, cyber, civil resilience, counter-terrorism, climate change and more.
An updated partnership agreement which will include concrete fields of cooperation is currently being negotiated between Jerusalem and Brussels, to be signed in the coming months. Israeli diplomats said that the new agreement would reflect the deepening relations between the sides.