For the first time in more than six years, Israel was allowed to participate in a NATO exercise this week.
Israel was a full participant in the wide-scale drill held in Montenegro to evaluate the readiness and capabilities of NATO to face natural disasters.
This week’s exercises were part of its accession preparation, and Montenegro was selected for the exercise because of a series of floods the country has suffered from in the past.
A total of 680 people from 32 nations participated in the drill, which simulated heavy floods and mudslides that also exposed the country to hazardous agents and swept away mines.
Israel was represented by a joint delegation of rescue and coordination teams from the Zaka rescue and recovery organization, the Fire and Rescue Service, the IDF and the Defense and Foreign ministries.
The Israeli teams, which included divers who practiced an underwater rescue mission in the cold waters of the Zeta River, performed very well and were praised by the drill managers.
It was the first time Israel was allowed to participate in a NATO field exercise in more than six years, made possible because of the reconciliation agreement signed four months ago between Israel and Turkey, which normalized relations to the ambassadorial level.
Israel’s relationship with NATO is defined as a “partnership,” a special status called “Mediterranean Dialogue,” which was initiated in 1994 by the North Atlantic Council in recognition of the Oslo Accords and the peace process.
It currently involves seven non-NATO countries of the Mediterranean region: Israel, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.
Aside from this multi-lateral relationship, Israel also benefits from bilateral relations with NATO. Recently, it was allowed to accredit an ambassador to the organization. Ronnie Leshno-Yaar, the ambassador to the EU, is now also assigned to NATO, as is Israel’s military attaché to the Netherlands.
Once a year, IDF chiefs of staff or their deputies take part in a meeting with their NATO counterparts and the Mediterranean Dialogue group.