Peretz discusses cooperation with NATO

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Amir Peretz made history Wednesday after becoming the first Israeli defense minister to visit NATO headquarters in Brussels. During his visit, Peretz met with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and discussed ways to enhance cooperation between Israel and the western military alliance.

During the two-hour meeting, Peretz, who spoke through translators, affirmed his intention to attend an informal gathering in Spain next week of defense ministers from Middle Eastern countries that are members of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue, a 10-year-old forum for political consultations and practical cooperation between countries of the Mediterranean area including Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and Jordan.

Peretz also confirmed Israel's intention to dispatch a high-ranking Navy officer to Naples in the coming months where he will participate in NATO's anti-terror Operation Active Endeavor.

NATO launched Operation Active Endeavor in the wake of 9/11 and has succeeded in bringing a number of Mediterranean countries to Naples to share intelligence information concerning naval terror and suspicious ships in the region.

Peretz and de Hoop Scheffer also discussed the possibility of incorporating Israeli defense industries into NATO forums on the development of anti-terror technology. Spain, a member of NATO, is in the midst of developing a laser system that will be capable of detecting explosives from a distance.

Peretz emphasized the Iranian threat during the meeting and urged de Hoop Scheffer to back further international pressure on Teheran in an effort to stop its nuclear program. "2007 is a critical year for the diplomatic efforts that are being made to stop Iran's nuclear program," Peretz told the NATO chief.