Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Threat to Israel Is Threat to Canada, MacKay Tells Israeli Military Commander

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Threat to Israel Is Threat to Canada, MacKay Tells Israeli Military Commander

Article excerpt

Threat to Israel is threat to Canada: MacKay

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OTTAWA - Israel has received private assurances Canada stands ready to help defend the Jewish state, but just how far the Harper government intends to take that commitment remains unclear.

Newly released documents say Defence Minister Peter MacKay told Israel's top military commander, Maj.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, during a 2011 visit to the Middle East, that "a threat to Israel is a threat to Canada."

The statement came a year after cabinet colleague Peter Kent was upbraided as junior foreign affairs minister for telling a Toronto-based publication that "an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada."

The declaration, appearing in an internal summary of MacKay's trip to Israel, could have important implications given the increasing military co-operation between the two countries.

Under the Harper government, Canada's support of Israel has been unwavering, even in the face of mounting international tensions over Iran's nuclear program.

When he met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Ottawa earlier this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper emphasized Canada wants to see a peaceful resolution in the troubled region, but it's unclear how far Canada has committed itself in the volatile region.

A spokesman for MacKay said the defence minister's comment was intended as an expression of support.

"Minister MacKay was making a statement of political solidarity with the Israelis and reminding our friends there that they are not facing global security threats alone," said Jay Paxton in an email.

The Israeli embassy declined comment, but pointed to remarks Netanyahu made to Canadian-Jewish publications following a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama on March 5, 2012.

"I appreciated the fact he made clear that when it comes to a nuclear-armed Iran, containment is simply not an option, and equally in my judgment, and perhaps most important of all, I appreciated the fact that he said Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself against any threat," the Israeli prime minister said.

Canada's military and industrial relationship with Israel has grown enormously. The two countries are negotiating or have signed a series of defence-based agreements over the last few years, details of which have been withheld.

The two countries do not have a binding defence arrangement, similar to Canada's obligations under NATO, but critics have begun to question the details and extent of the emerging relationship.

"These kinds of comments have consequences," said NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar.

"We're talking of a very sensitive part of the world. …

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