Both the Mediterranean Dialogue (MD), which includes Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), which includes Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates aspire to transform NATO’s relations with third-party states from dialogue to partnership. Both are frameworks that coincide with Israel’s belief that a regional system of security and cooperation in the Middle East is essential for the creation of proper conditions for an Arab-Israeli peace, and indeed for the transatlantic community collective capacity to combat terrorism and curtail the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Both frameworks accordingly with the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as well, that formulates an overall solution to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, linking it to a regional normalization with Israel.
It seems that what is lacking is not another peace plan, nor one more mediator. The parameters of an Israeli-Arab peace agreement are clear to all, and yet the parties are incapable of reaching a settlement. What is lacking is an international choreography whereby vital external actors, such as the US, NATO and the EU, will advance assurances and offer baits to the parties that would help coax them into making the necessary concessions for peace.
However, the MD process has not fostered concrete regional military and security cooperation between Israel and the other MD countries so far, mainly because of three elements: 1. military gaps between the different MD states; 2. MD states' security challenges do not converge; 3. Because of the political circumstances in the region, Israel "pays a premium" for its membership in the MD. This is also true for the EU's cooperation structure in the region.
In light of the inefficiency of those regional structures, both NATO and EU cooperation structures seem like they could use some “makeover”. In order to consolidate its economic and political relation with its immediate periphery, the EU created the Union for the Mediterranean that was recently reactivated, as well as the European Neighborhood Policy for countries that do not have the immediate option of membership.
If and when peace is established, the fact that the EU has a regional integration process, with mechanisms and institutional arrangement already in place, is very significant and could play a crucial role. NATO's MD should complete the economic and political frameworks through security cooperation.
Using the current cooperation frameworks in a way that would allow harnessing the full potential of the relations and would support the peace process as well should clearly be an Israeli interest as well as a transatlantic one.
Moreover, NATO views the MD as an important forum for regional politico-military dialogue and more significantly from NATO’s perspective, over the past few years, Israel’s drive to strengthen its relations with NATO brought other MD countries to enhance their relations with NATO. NATO will therefore not accept any cooperation with Israel outside the MD. In that sense, if Israel wants to fully develop its cooperation potential with NATO, it has to provide the Alliance with guaranties that it will not quit the MD. In exchange, NATO will have to facilitate Israel's security exchange in the region and use it as a way to foster a dialogue within the MD states, most of which do not have official relations with Israel. Finding ways to initiate collaboration between the MD, the ICI - and the Union for the Mediterranean as a bonus - will allow the transatlantic community to foster a comprehensive strategy for the region within a multilateral framework.
Unless the EU and NATO use their regional structures to enhance concrete cooperation areas – R&D, training, command & control, counter-terrorism - the Mediterranean structures will become even less relevant than they currently are, since except for NATO's Active Endeavour, they do not meet the needs of the broader strategic requirements in the region. Those structures should be revaluated with regards to current events and new dynamics, when the accent should be put on enhanced cooperation between the MD, ICI and the Union for the Mediterranean. Highlighting the fact that the frameworks meet both Arab and Israeli requirements could be a good starting point to revive the transatlantic relevance in the region.
Lea Landman works for the Institute for Policy and Strategy, IDC, in Herzliya, Israel as a Research Fellow and Deputy Director of the Annual Herzliya Conference Series.
This article was submitted for the atlantic-community.org's
competition: "Empowering Women in International Relations." It coincides
with the 10th Anniversary of UN resolution 1325 calling for an
increased influence of women in all aspects of peace and security. The
contest is sponsored by the U.S. Mission to NATO and the NATO Public
You can read more submissions from the competition here.