Speaking in Tel Aviv after meeting Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer hinted on Thursday he would address the issue with ambassadors of the 26-member alliance upon his return to Brussels.

"Who am I to explain to any representative of the Israeli government or any Israeli citizen what it means to be haunted by terrorism?" he said. "It's a global threat - we have to fight together."

Scheffer is the first Nato secretary-general to visit Israel officially and is touring the region to discuss global security.

"This is one of those subjects on which I think Israel, and Nato and other Mediterranean dialogue countries for that matter, can work together and should work together," he said, referring to the alliance's relationship with Israel and six Arab states.

Arab concern?
 
On what cooperation with Israel might entail, he said: "It could mean participation in Nato exercises. It could mention the sharing of intelligence."

"We believe that greater engagement by Nato with the countries of the Middle East will enhance our effort to promote peaceful and normal contacts between Israel and our Arab neighbours, to the benefit of all"

Silvan Shalom,
Israeli foreign minister

Israel and Nato have held joint military exercises before.
 
Shalom said both Israel and the alliance would benefit from closer ties, which could encourage peacemaking in the region.

"We believe that greater engagement by Nato with the countries of the Middle East will enhance our effort to promote peaceful and normal contacts between Israel and our Arab neighbours, to the benefit of all," Shalom said.

Scheffer did not specify if the alliance would play a role in any future Middle East peace agreement.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared a ceasefire at a summit in Egypt on 8 February.

But the secretary-general told Israel's Haaretz newspaper that Nato would "certainly need to discuss such a request" if one was made, after securing a UN mandate.
 
No Arab reaction is as yet available on the possible alliance between Nato and Israel, although any military or intelligence cooperation is likely to be opposed.