Brussels (AFP) – Israel will open a mission at NATO headquarters in Brussels as part of efforts to boost cooperation with the US-led alliance to counter extremist violence, top officials said Tuesday.
The move had been discussed for several years but was held up by opposition from Turkey, a key NATO member which is reportedly on the verge of normalising ties with Israel, once its close regional ally.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Israel had been an active alliance partner for 20 years and now it was “essential” to step up cooperation and go a step further.
“Violence in North Africa and in the Middle East is a clear threat to all our nations…. It is vital that countries which share the same values … stand together against hate and terrorism,” Stoltenberg told reporters alongside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at NATO headquarters.
Rivlin said opening the mission “will help Israel and NATO in strengthening our cooperation and our good relations. It will help us share best practices and information.”
“In the Middle East, the winds of hatred blow stronger than ever (and) events in one region affect the rest of world,” he said.
Opening of the mission had been stymied by Turkey, a key regional ally of Israel until 2010 when Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza, leaving 10 activists dead.
The raid led to years of recriminations but in December, Turkey and Israel held talks on a rapprochement.
Reports in Turkey on Tuesday said the two would announce the normalisation of ties on Sunday, with two key Ankara conditions — an apology and compensation for the raid — largely met.
The third condition, that Israel lift its blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, remains to be resolved.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said “definitive progress” had been made but “the agreement has not reached a final point.”
“God willing, it will head toward a final point in a direction we want. Turkey is not at a point of making concessions,” he said.