(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom)
Without a doubt, recent developments in the Middle East have had a negative
impact on Israel’s security. The popular uprising in Egypt casts doubt on all
existing arrangements, while its outcome remains unknown; it could well end up
producing another hostile Islamic country. At the same time, Hizbullah has
strengthened its grip on Lebanon, relations with Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey
keep deteriorating, Iran appears steadfast on its path to acquire nuclear
weapons and Hamas is entrenched in Gaza.
Within this framework of
uncertainty, insecurity and danger, the emerging informal Israeli-Greek alliance
has the potential to bring Israel closer to Europe and act as a source of
OVER THE past few months, and following Binyamin
Netanyahu’s historic visit to Greece last August (the first by an Israeli prime
minister), cooperation between the two countries has been broad and
multifaceted. It covers the realms of defense (joint air force exercises),
culture, tourism (a 200 percent rise in Israelis visiting Greece) and economics
(with several projects being discussed in fields such as agrotechnology and
Also noteworthy is the mission that Athens underwrote during the
recent Carmel wildfires. It included a 70-member rescue operation comprised of
crewmen, pilots, firefighters and several planes. A bilateral cabinet meeting is
to be convened this spring in Israel announcing several major new
This rapprochement enjoys broad bipartisan support in Greece,
and hence is essentially administration-proof (a qualitative difference from the
Turkish-Israeli alliance of the 1990s, which was opposed by the Islamists from
In addition to mutually beneficial aspects, this new
alliance can contribute to regional stability in a series of concrete
First, by continuing to maintain excellent relations with the Arab
and Muslim peoples of the Middle East, Athens can contribute to the maximum
extent possible (for a country of Greece’s size) toward alleviating regional
conflicts and facilitating peace efforts.
Prime Minister George
Papandreou’s attempts to visit Cairo during the uprising offers an example of
the kind of action that could take place.
Second, Greece can help ease
tensions between Turkey and Israel. This may sound surprising, but we should
keep in mind that Athens maintains good relations with Ankara, and fervently
supports the country’s European perspective. The elimination of all strained
regional relations is ultimately in its best interest.
Third, there is
the huge Leviathan natural gas field. The construction of an undersea pipeline
possibly connecting Leviathan to Cyprus and Crete is apparently being
Such a development could be a game changer. It would certainly
alter Israel’s position vis-a-vis Europe, and lessen the continent’s energy
dependence on Russia (especially significant now, since the Nabucco gas pipeline
project appears problematic).
In addition, it is not necessarily
farfetched to envision a network of pipelines bringing together Israel, Greece,
Cyprus, Egypt (if it stabilizes in a responsible fashion), a future Palestinian
state (if there is gas in its putative territorial waters) and Iran (if there is
ever a regime change there).
FOR THE time being, such long-term projects
hinge on solidifying Israeli-Greek relations, as well as on several key actions.
For example, Greece should declare its own exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and
reach an agreement with Cyprus on their mutual EEZs. By doing so, the Leviathan
pipeline project will be propelled forward.
Furthermore, Greece and
Israel have to get to know each other in a much better way. Frequent visits by
journalists, politicians, diplomats and youth groups are now necessary.
Understanding can be deepened through the contribution of think tanks and
academics, perhaps on an institutionalized basis; and businesspeople should be
at the forefront of significant cooperative ventures.
Finally, Athens can
create a legal framework allowing Israeli citizens who can prove descent from
Greek Jews who survived the Holocaust to claim Greek (and hence EU) citizenship
(a precedent exists for Greeks from former Soviet republics).
inclusive gesture would probably solidify cooperation among the two peoples for
at least a generation.
An informal Israeli-Greek alliance deserves to be
better understood and fully supported.The writer is assistant professor
of international relations at the University of Piraeus. The views expressed in
this article are his own.