Netanyahu looking over shoulder 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is scheduled to go to Athens next week,
sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said on Tuesday, adding that this will be
the first ever visit by an Israeli premier to Greece.
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The visit, coming
three weeks after Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou visited Israel, is a
testament to the rapidly warming ties between the two countries, and – according
to sources – is not disconnected to the tension between Israel and Turkey,
Greece’s long time adversary.
“This trip shows the new dynamism in the
relationship between Israel and Greece,” one diplomatic official said. In
addition to meeting Papandreou in Israel last month, Netanyahu also
coincidentally met him at a Moscow restaurant during a visit there in
The Prime Minister’s Office would neither confirm nor deny
speculation that among the issues that will be discussed will be the possibility
of an agreement on allowing Israeli jets to train in Greek skies.
the deterioration in Israeli-Turkish ties that was accelerated after Operation
Cast Lead a year and a half ago, the IAF has been looking for other places –
such as Romania, where an IAF helicopter crashed last month – to
Following the flotilla incident on May 31, Turkey closed its skies
to Israeli military aircraft.
In May, the IAF held a joint exercise with
the Greek Air Force in Greek airspace, and already two years ago some 100 IAF
aircraft flew over Greece in a long-range training mission perceived as a dress
rehearsal for a strike against Iran.
Netanyahu’s discussions in Greece
are also expected to address expanding bilateral cooperation in a gamut of
areas, including tourism, trade, establishment of a political dialogue and
The recent sharp deterioration in ties with Turkey has
also led to a warming of ties with other traditional Turkish rivals in the
region, such as Cyprus and Bulgaria.
Both the Cypriot and Bulgarian
foreign ministers were in the country earlier this year.
whose father, Andreas, was prime minister of Greece twice (1981- 1989 and
1993-1996) and was known for pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli leanings, has
chartered a much more moderate policy toward Israel than his predecessors since
taking office in October.
Before his visit last month, one Israeli
official said that Greece, once considered among the harshest critics of Israel
inside the EU, along with countries such as Ireland, Sweden, Portugal and
Belgium, was no longer in that “basket.”
In addition to their meetings
over the last year, Netanyahu and Papandreou have spoken a number of times by
phone, since some of the ships trying to break the blockade of Gaza have left
from Greek ports.
In a briefing before Papandreou’s visit here last
month, one diplomatic official said that the Greeks – looking at the
Israeli-Turkish and Turkish-US tensions – are realizing that strategic
in the region are shifting, and that this might be a good time to get
Israel as a way of warming ties with Washington.
When Israel had a close
strategic alliance with Turkey, the official said, Athens gave up any
forging such an alliance with Israel. But now that the situation with
changed dramatically, Athens is seeing more opportunities with