Brussels/Tel Aviv (dpa) - Israel will be allowed to open a permanent office at NATO headquarters, the military alliance said Wednesday, in a move that is expected to bolster ties between the two sides.
"Israel is a very active partner of the alliance as a member of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue," NATO said in a statement, adding that it has invited all partners to open diplomatic missions at its Brussels headquarters.
NATO ambassadors have "agreed to accept the request that an official Israeli mission be established," the statement said.
The office will be headed by Israel's ambassador to the European Union, David Walzer. He has already served as representative to NATO, but until now the Israeli mission had not been officially recognized.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as foreign minister, said Wednesday that it was the accomplishment of a target his government had worked on "for many years."
"I announce here that Israel will accept the invitation and that we will soon open an office," he told his cabinet.
Netanyahu labelled the move "an important step that aids Israeli security."
Observers called it a significant enhancement in NATO-Israel ties, at a time of instability throughout the Middle East.
Israel's Foreign Ministry said the announcement follows a "lengthy diplomatic effort" by Israel.
"Israel would like to thank its friends in the organization for their support and efforts on the issue," the ministry added.
Some NATO member states have in the past opposed closer cooperation with Israel, arguing it could harm relations with Muslim states.
The 28-member alliance currently has some 40 partner nations. The Mediterranean Dialogue was launched in 1994 between the bloc and Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.
NATO's treaty obliges the bloc to defend members states militarily, but not partners, even though they regularly contribute to NATO operations.