The Western alliance’s No. 2. Mircea Geoană, speaks with JNS about the partnership with Israel and the Ukraine war.
By Amichai Stein, JNS
In July, a precedent was set. For the first time, NATO called Iran a threat to Europe.
“Iran’s support to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has an impact on Euro-Atlantic security,” the 31-member alliance said in a final declaration at a summit in Lithuania.
“We call upon Iran to cease its military support to Russia, in particular its transfer of Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), which have been used to attack critical infrastructure, causing widespread civilian casualties,” the communiqué continued.
The communiqué mentioned Iran 11 times; its 2021 equivalent included only three references to the Islamic Republic.
All this helps to explain why for the first time in years, NATO’s No. 2 visited Israel.
Mircea Geoană, the alliance’s deputy secretary-general, met with President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and other leading figures. This writer met Geoană for a short interview before he departed for Brussels on Friday.
JNS: Does NATO see Iran as a threat to Europe?
Mircea Geoană: Of course, we are concerned also in Europe. I will give you the example of my home country, Romania, which hosts on its territory a NATO anti-missile defense system, which was put in my country to counter potential Iranian attacks.
They [the Iranians]are helping Russia in this illegal and criminal war against Ukraine. So we are deeply concerned. And this is one of the topics that we discussed during my visit [to Israel]. But what we are seeing is not only a threat to Europe but a threat to the Middle East, a threat to global peace and stability. And we also highlight to our Israeli partners the fact that this is not Iran in isolation—it’s Iran and Russia, Iran and other regimes. So, yes, there is a mutual concern about this, this destabilizing action by Iran on multiple fronts.
JNS: How is NATO involved in countering Iranian threats in the Middle East?
Geoană: NATO has a presence in Iraq. NATO Mission Iraq is a training mission that we developed and we train the Iraqi Armed Forces and Federal Police. The way in which Iran is encouraging, sponsoring and actively directing attacks of multiple militias and various organizations… all of these are of significant concern to all of us.
JNS: Let’s talk about the Ukraine war. How much do you fear Russia might use nuclear weapons if it is desperate?
Geoană: Russia is a nuclear superpower. And of course we are concerned about the nuclear rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin or coming out from high-level officials from Moscow. But for the time being, we do not see actual changes in the nuclear posture by Russia. But this kind of rhetoric is dangerous and reckless in itself. Nuclear superpowers normally refrain from using this kind of rhetoric.
JNS: If they use nuclear weapons—then what?
Geoană: Russia knows that use of tactical weapons of that sort will be crossing a major, major red line and there will be consequences for that. But we don’t see a real, physical change of posture in the Russian distribution of nuclear forces. And you have seen in NATO no change in our nuclear posture, and you’ve seen also the restraint in the U.S. and the U.K. and France, the nuclear powers inside NATO have been acting as they should.
JNS: How does NATO see the Ukrainian counter-offensive so far?
Geoană: We see Ukrainian forces making steady progress. And of course, this is a very difficult operation because Russia occupied the territory of Ukraine and put in a very, very robust system of defenses with land mines, with practical, physical and also electronic warfare.
But the progress they are making is encouraging. We trust the way in which Ukraine is learning and using the support that we see from many of our [member]countries, and we are also very confident in the political leadership in Ukraine that will take the right decisions in continuing these offenses. But we also have to be realistic, that this will be a very heavy and difficult fight on the way forward.
JNS: Do you see a political situation that will lead to an end to the state of hostilities in the near future?
Geoană: We cannot say, none of us can say, words are unpredictable by nature. How long will this take? We hope that a just solution respecting the principles of international law will come sooner rather than later. And also something that is very important in any war and also in this phase of the war is that Ukraine has all the strategic initiative. They are setting the pace, not Russia. And in any war, this is a massive advantage. We will see how things develop, but we trust our Ukrainian partners in the just fight to liberate their land.
JNS: Does NATO expect Israel to assist Ukraine with defensive weapons such as the Iron Dome?
Geoană: We raised this issue during my meeting with the Israeli officials, and of course we expect all of our partners to condemn this illegal war and to try to help Ukraine to the maximum extent possible.
JNS: But do you think Israel is doing enough?
Geoană: We also understand that there are some considerations when it comes to Israel and specific security concerns that sometimes make decisions in this respect more complex. But we have no doubt that Israel is fighting with all of us in the democratic world. There is support for Ukraine. And I hope that my visit added additional arguments to try to do more for Ukraine. But we respect Israel’s particular security concerns (i.e., Russian forces inside Syria). They are specific and we are respectful of those concerns, as we should be in any partnership and especially in a very robust one.
JNS: What does NATO see for the Israeli connection looking ahead?
Geoană: The world is in a major transformation from global competition to the revolution of technology, and Israel is not only militarily a very robust nation but also you are a nation of innovators. That’s why I also met many startups. I visited the Shimon Peres Center, I met people from the Technion[-Israel Institute of Technology], people from your defense innovation ecosystem.
I think we share the same worldview. We want to cooperate with Israel on a wide range of issues, from strategy to fighting terrorism, from artificial intelligence to quantum and biotech. We stand ready to bolster this partnership. My visit here is just a confirmation at a high level from our side of the interest in developing this partnership.
Amichai Stein is the diplomatic correspondent for Kan 11, IPBC.