These days, we celebrate 25 years since the establishment of full diplomatic relations between our two countries, Greece and Israel, representing two peoples that have been interacting for more than 2,000 years. Let us briefly look back at these relatively few years of fruitful cooperation and then take a deep breath while gazing forward to the great challenges ahead which the two peoples are called upon by mere reality to tackle together, hand in hand.
We sometimes hear the bizarre argument that current flourishing relations between Greece and Israel constitute a “marriage of convenience” since other states in the region have turned hostile to both countries. Nothing could lie further from reality.
A brief survey of regional geostrategic and economic parameters shaping up over the last years easily proves even to a non-expert that Israel and Greece share in today’s precarious East Mediterranean environment a series of converging if not identical interests, goals and characteristics. In a broader area where tensions are mounting simultaneously in the entire Middle East up to Central Asia and parts of Eastern Europe and down to North and sub-Saharan Africa, countries that possess democratic structures, rich historic and cultural background, mature societies with highly educated and politically active citizens, and economies based on functional, liberal, technologically and financially advanced infrastructures, are truly scarce.
In this framework, Greece wisely decided a while ago that it will cooperate closely with Israel among other neighboring friends to promote peace, stability and socioeconomic progress, thus contributing, to a degree, to the development of the entire region and perhaps even beyond. By all means, let us be daring. In the words of Golda Meir, “If you do not believe in miracles, then you are not a realist.”
Our two countries have engaged in an intensive cooperation, exchange of ideas and experiences in the fields of science, culture, commerce, innovation, energy, security and defense. These fields open great opportunities to institutions, individual citizens and entrepreneurs alike, as they affect almost every aspect of contemporary activity in our respective open, modern and democratic societies. Certainly, there is plenty more to explore in agriculture, tourism, medicine, research, transport, communications, even space technology where synergies are already multiplying. The institutional framework has been set, skilled people are available, the political will exists. Therefore, the road to progress and cooperation is wide open, constituting a one-way street with no turning back, because: Greece has been dragged in a severe economic and, consequently, social crisis over the past six years despite being a member of the nucleus of the European Union, one of its older members. A series of grave inherent structural, financial and political deficiencies caused the derailment of our economy. Furthermore, the prescription ordered by the international community to remedy an unprecedented situation unfortunately proved to be inadequate to a great extent.
As a matter of fact Europe has been plunging in an equally severe crisis over the last years, a deep shock that is not purely and solely economic but that, alas, is damaging its social, cultural and moral cohesion, seriously endangering the democratic and ethical values on which it is founded. In this gloomy context, Greece’s ever-blooming affiliation with the young, daring and innovative Israeli society is infusing our aging productive structures and old-fashioned state bureaucracy with new, “out of the box” ideas and methods.
This fact is greatly appreciated by our younger productive generation that has forgone stereotypes long ago, possessing by now high educational standards and specialized skills in a number of fields.
Greece offers Israel, which feels isolated geographically and culturally within an increasingly turbulent and hostile Middle Eastern environment, a broad and secure gateway to the challenges and opportunities of Europe in every sense. Greece is a safe haven as a holiday destination for hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens, a vibrant opportunity for Israeli entrepreneurs, a worthy partner for Israeli scientists and academics, a cultural Mediterranean “alter ego” for Israeli artists but also for simple music lovers or gourmets, a truly reliable interlocutor when it comes to issues of defense training or sensitive security information sharing.
Certainly the Middle East is a volatile area, where relations, interests and, consequently, trusted friends often shift sides. Nevertheless, in this particular instance, things seem much simpler. What was long overdue in the context of our bilateral relations is finally materializing as things have taken their natural course, based on pure rational thinking and taking into account the broader regional picture and the two countries’ mutual interests. As a matter of fact, Greece has always been keenly interested in developments in this region, since its long-term strategic interests are far better served through a stable, open, democratic, cooperative and peaceful evolution of all states in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In this context, our steady drive toward a full strategic partnership with Israel falls well in line with our excellent traditional relations with the Arab world and our unwavering support for reaching a just, viable and peaceful solution to the Palestinian issue through a final agreement providing for the existence of two sovereign and democratic states in this region, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, mutual recognition and respect.
Our close cooperation with Israel by no means develops at the expense of any other state, nor does it direct itself against any third party. Our strong conviction is that our common democratic and human values should ultimately prevail over violence, hatred, fanaticism and sectarianism that lead people back to the dark ages. Therefore, we are inviting all others to join us in a regional partnership of peace and progress, in order to bring prosperity and freedom to the entire region that is currently undergoing horrible ordeals involving massive destruction, terrorism in its most brutal form, involving scores of innocent civilian victims of war and inhuman oppression.
The new Greek government, in the course of the customary ceremonial opening session of our parliament, pledged to struggle for a drastic humane, democratic and liberal change benefiting the average citizen not only in Greece, but in Europe as a whole. If this message of hope is valid for an ailing Europe, then it is certainly imperative for a bleeding Middle East.
Let us indeed offer a glimpse of light and allow an excited heartbeat in the perpetual struggle for a more humane society and better individuals.
Let us give our long forgotten human smile a new chance. In the words of yet another pillar of wisdom, Shimon Peres: “Count daily the number of your dreams and compare them to the number of your perceived accomplishments. If dreams are more than deeds, then you are still young with a bright future ahead of you.”
This is certainly the case for the relations between Israel and Greece.
The writer is Greece’s ambassador to Israel.