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by Jose Maria Aznar


The West and the Rest

Even if it is located in the Middle East, Israel is not a Middle Eastern country. It is a Western country. In order to survive, Israel has learned to think strategically. This is the time that the rest of us, particularly people from Europe, must also learn to think in strategic terms.

Israel is a Western nation in its values, heritage, and social practices, but is also an integral part of the West according to purely strategic logic. If we trace the line between the West and the rest, Israel is on the same side as Europe, the U.S., Japan, and Australia. We defend the same values against the same enemies. It's that simple.

The threat from communism is gone, but the danger emanating from Islamic terrorism is now a clear and present threat. We have seen the rise of jihadism, and how fanatic Islamists strike time after time in our own soil.

Israel's strategic environment has also been changing. From fighting Arab nationalism, Israel has been entangled in an almost perpetual struggle with Palestinian nationalism. When Israel began moving toward a potential two-state solution, the Palestinian cause has been dangerously overtaken by Islamic extremists. Equally, the balance of power in the region has been altered by many factors, from the intervention in Iraq to the threat from al-Qaeda, to an Iranian government seeking to reinvigorate Khomeini's legacy.

Refocus NATO to Fight Islamic Terror

I was recently in Brussels, invited by NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General James Jones to talk about the future of NATO, prior to the summit that will take place at the end of the year to discuss the future direction of the Atlantic Alliance. I told him that I believe in the Atlantic Alliance sincerely. NATO was created to better secure the freedom, common heritage, and civilization of the Western nations. It was built upon the principles of democracy and individual liberties and the rule of law, and as such is equally vital today. In my opinion, NATO has been a very successful organization. The Alliance was able to protect our freedom and democracy from the Soviet threat and it has been very relevant in exporting security and stability to troubled areas.

Now it is imperative to defend our values and way of life against a new threat: Islamic extremism and terrorism. The main purpose of NATO should remain to collectively preserve our democracies, although its mission must be adapted to the new environment. The new mission should be clear: to combat jihadism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These are slightly different threats, but they tend to merge in the Middle East. If the Allies want to prevail collectively over the gathering threats, NATO must refocus itself on fighting terror, the major threat today. Indeed, this is an existential threat, if we bear in mind what Islamic terrorism plans for outsiders -- "the crusaders and infidels" -- and for Zionism, as well.

In order to fight jihadism effectively, NATO must undertake a wide set of reforms, both conceptual and structural. These would include the development of a homeland security dimension by the Alliance. NATO must come to terms with the new strategic realities, that we are at war, because our foes have declared it upon us. They could be hiding in a cave far away, but their vision is crystal clear. They want to recreate the caliphate from Spain to the Philippines. They want a fundamentalist reading of Islam to be the ruling law.

Islamic terror is not just a criminal activity. It's something more. To win over terror we will need much more than just intelligence or police actions. We will need more than defensive measures, and this is where NATO should play a better role. We cannot say that today the front between internal and external security has become blurred and at the same time keep all the administrative and institutional barriers separating them. NATO must become an integral defense and security organization, and engage the European Union in the arena of homeland security.

Furthermore, we must understand that jihadism is a global movement in its scope, with different levels of expression, from car bombs to radical sermons in mosques, Internet sites, and TV stations.

Open NATO to Those Who Share Our Values - Including Israel

If defending our own values against the radical Islamists is the future of NATO, we must change the way the Alliance is conceived geographically and open its doors to those nations that share our values, that defend them on the ground, and that are willing to join in the fight against jihadism. Thus, NATO should invite Japan, Australia, and Israel to become full members.

As you can imagine, many people in Europe and in NATO were shocked by the idea of inviting Israel, although they took as a natural fact the establishment of closer cooperation with Japan and Australia, which indeed is a big change for NATO. Some people from Israel also objected to having Israel as a formal ally in NATO.

But treating Israel as if it were not an integral part of the Western world is a big mistake that will affect our ability to prevail in this long war against jihadism. I think it is in our mutual interests to have Israel as a formal ally.

In the case of Iran, no one has any doubt about the real intentions of Iran concerning their nuclear program. The ayatollahs want the bomb, and unless we do something to thwart their efforts, they will get it. We spent three years in diplomatic efforts trying to get Iran to freeze their research.

I think we must do whatever is in our hands to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear. But we should also prepare ourselves to force a nuclear Iran to behave wisely. If Iran sees and feels that Israel is an integral part of the West, I think our deterrent posture will be strengthened. I believe having a NATO umbrella over Israel will have a beneficial impact. Alternatively, having an Israel that is progressively isolated from NATO will increase the chances that a miscalculation of some sort may happen, and engulf everyone into a conflict of incalculable consequences.

Islamic Extremism Is Getting Closer to Israel

In the case of the Palestinians, we are witnessing how Palestinian nationalism is being transformed into Islamic extremism. Hamas' victory is not bringing just a different rhetoric to the Palestinian territories but a social order based on theocracy and focused on religious intolerance. Israel is exposed to a new threat, to one emerging from Islamic extremism and terrorism, and as such has become another piece in the growing puzzle the jihadists are trying to put together. Islamic extremism is getting closer and closer to Israel.

The West cannot fight this radical tide without Israel. Israelis might decide that for their own security they had better follow the traditional policy of relying just on themselves. But Islamic extremism is more a tsunami than a tide, and in front of this powerful force we better stand together.

In Europe, more and more people better understand the Israeli position each day. If you agree that the world faces a global threat, it is necessary to organize a strong response to this threat. For me, Israel is a vital part of the Western world. Israel is becoming more and more important to the Western world for stability, prosperity, and freedom.

Now one possibility is to do nothing. Another possibility is to say that Israel is a strange entity in the Middle East, with which we can possibly establish a special relationship, but it is not exactly a part of the Western world. Another position, which is my position, is to say that Israel, in these current circumstances, is a vital part of the Western world. I want this vital part of the Western world to be a member of an organization working to guarantee liberty, stability, and democracy in the world.

No Appeasement of Terrorism

For me, the decision to have the Spanish troops retreat from Iraq was a mistake. First, this sends a very dangerous message to terrorism: if you attack me in Madrid, I respond with the withdrawal of the Spanish troops from Iraq. This provides a special victory to terrorists. Second, I have a concept of loyalty to allies. Imagine, for example, in World War II after the Allies landed on the beach in Normandy and suddenly one country decides to send its troops home. Third, stabilizing Iraq is a necessity for the stability of freedom in the world. But if the international coalition is defeated in Iraq, the situation in the region will be a catastrophe.

I don't believe in appeasement against terrorism. I don't believe in negotiation with terrorism. I believe in the necessity to fight against terrorists. It is a very serious mistake to negotiate with terrorism. Terrorists should be frightened and defeated, and this is possible. No other policy exists for me.

Jose Maria Aznar was Prime Minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004. Today he heads the Foundation for Social Analysis and Study (FAES) in Madrid. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on March 16, 2006.

This article was published by The Institute for Contemporary Affairs (ICA) a Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 5, No. 23, April 27, 2006,


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