Greek ambassador: Despite apology, Turkey blocking Israel-NATO cooperation

Envoy tells 'Post,' even if Turkish PM Erdogan is anti-Semitic, "he should keep it to himself."

September 12, 2013 07:06
4 minute read.
Greek Ambassador Spiros Lampridis

Spiros Lampridis 370. (photo credit: Courtesy Greek Embassy)


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Nearly six months after Israel’s apology to Turkey for the Mavi Marmara incident, Ankara continues to completely block any NATO cooperation with Israel, Greece’s Ambassador Spiros Lampridis told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

Following the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, NATO member Turkey adamantly opposed Israeli involvement – “even the most innocent” – in any NATO programs, he said. These programs included joint exercises, intelligence exchanges, and research and technological development programs.

“We were hoping that after the arrangement between [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and [Prime Minister Tayyip Recep] Erdogan in the spring, Turkey would pull back a little and allow some of the programs,” he said. “But there is nothing.”

By not allowing Israel’s participation in NATO programs, he added, Turkey was blocking participation with other Mediterranean countries, because Israel and other nations in the region – Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria – took part in NATO projects as a bloc.

“We can’t cooperate with any of them, because the programs are all blocked, nothing can go through,” he said.

Lampridis said he was surprised by the continued Turkish opposition, especially since practical cooperation between Turkey and Israel was taking place on a daily basis, “like where Turkey has an advantage, of course, and Israel is demonstrating goodwill.”

For example, since Turkish goods can no longer be transported overland through Syria to the Persian Gulf, every week hundreds of Turkish trucks arrive via ferry to the Haifa Port where they then proceed across the country to the Jordan border crossings, carrying millions of dollars worth of goods to Jordan and onward to the Gulf.

“If Israel behaved in the same negative way that Turkey was behaving, it could have said ‘no’ to Turkey, told them, ‘This is your problem. I don’t need these trucks blocking my highways.’ But Israel is cooperating, and Turkey is deriving great benefit from this.”

One Foreign Ministry source confirmed this arrangement, stressing that it came at the initiative of the private business sector in Turkey, which is very keen on maintaining close ties with Israel. Erdogan’s government was not involved in setting up the program. The Greek ambassador also took Erdogan to task for blaming Jews and Israel for the unrest over the summer in Turkey and for the overthrow of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

“You just don’t say such things,” he said.

Asked if he thought Erdogan was an anti-Semite, he replied, “Even if he is, is it the position a prime minister takes? He can do it privately if he wants. You don’t do it openly and expose a whole country – a country that has never been anti-Semitic in the past, to tell the truth, especially under the Ottoman Empire, when it was a haven for Jews. Other countries were not, Turkey was. What’s wrong with the guy? It really beats me.”

He also said that he believed Erdogan’s policies and comments on Israel were directed toward the Muslim world, believing they would make him a leader there. But, he said, a series of missteps in the Arab world, first and foremost with Egypt, had weakened Turkey’s position there as well.

Regarding the situation in Syria, Lampridis made it clear his country was opposed to US military action at this time.

“The best approach is to seek a solution that would be constructive and diminish the possibility of things going wrong in the region,” he said. “We have enough violence in the region. If there are more violent actions, nobody knows where they will lead.”

Lampridis said the peaceful removal of the chemical weapons stockpiles from Syria – as the Russians have proposed – would “obviously” be beneficial to Israel, because if there were violence “you don’t know what spillover there could be.”

The envoy said there was hope that the Russian proposal could lead to a positive momentum and to a “greater resolution” of the Syrian civil war.

“What alternative do we have?” he asked. “We can let them kill each other for the next God knows how many years, and then expect spillover in Lebanon, Israel – God forbid – Jordan and the entire region. The region is unstable enough as it is, unfortunately.”

While Assad is “bad enough,” he said that his possible replacements – be they from the Nusra Front or other al-Qaida factions – “could be much worse.”

While Lampridis said he was not overly confident that the Russian proposal would ignite a whole new dynamic, “we don’t have many options.

“We are hearing another one from President Obama [the military option],” he said. “But he doesn’t have a clear okay from Congress; he does not have too many allies in the international community, and he does not have the majority of the public.

We don’t have really too many alternatives. We always think that the peaceful alternative, if it works, is the best policy.”

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