Add a democratic layer to the Israeli-Hellenic partnership

The countries also engage in close cooperation in intelligence and security matters. Israeli forces train now regularly in Greece and Cyprus as part of an institutionalized military relationship.

March 2, 2019 23:02
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara hosted the President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiade

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara hosted the President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in their home on Wednesday night. . (photo credit: PMO)


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The last few years saw the emergence of an Israeli-Cypriot-Greek partnership.

The leaders of the three countries hold summits on a regular basis. Since 2016, five such summits were held. In the last meeting, which was convened on December 20, 2018, the three countries declared that they would create a permanent secretariat for the partnership.

The countries also engage in close cooperation in intelligence and security matters. Israeli forces train now regularly in Greece and Cyprus as part of an institutionalized military relationship.

In 2017, the Israeli parliament passed a status of forces laws, which regulate the military relationship between Israel and the Hellenic states following bilateral agreements it signed with Greece in 2015 and with Cyprus in 2017.

The partnership is driven by hard power realist considerations.

The three countries aspire to curb Turkey’s influence in the region and are eager to optimize the natural gas findings in the eastern Mediterranean basin.

One possible project that is being reviewed is a joint pipeline project (that will also include Italy) which will deliver gas from the region to southern Europe.
Still, all three states strive to expand the partnership to include other forms of cooperation.

The joint statements of the leadership summits draw a vision of cooperation in a variety of issues, such as energy, innovation and business, health, education, science, postal services, maritime pollution and digital diplomacy.

However, one element is generally missing: the set of values and political structure which bind them together: democracy. Situated in a region that suffers from a severe democratic deficit, all three stand as exceptions to thriving (albeit imperfect) democratic institutions and traditions. A normative-based relationship should serve as complementary to the current realpolitik thriving relationship among the states.

Adding a commitment to their democratic values and institutions will offer an “ideological” cement to the partnership, which would support, and indeed advance, the power-based calculations that drive it now.

It would also allow for ameliorating a possible critique against the partnership that it is a European Judeo-Christian effort to confront the Muslim East. Rather, the partnership can be presented as one driven by a common system of government.

Moreover, adding a liberal-democratic normative layer to the partnership will allow each nation to support the other when dealing with internal challenges to its democracy and rule of law.

All three counties are facing internal challenges to democracy. For example, they are all threatened by corruption. Indeed, both Greek and Israeli officials were investigated for being bribed by the same German firm in the context of security-related deals.

All three countries have a vested interest to fight corruption, and they could assist each other in doing so. Greece and Israel both face challenges of right-wing parties with limited commitments to democracy. They could learn from each other how to contain these challenges and develop joint strategies.

Finally, all three states face external challenges to liberal democracy: Political Islam, as well as new and old regional actors such as Russia and China, have no commitment to liberal democracy. With this external reality affecting all three countries, they will benefit from developing joint strategies to handle a broad spectrum of regional challenges.

The leaders of the three states are aware of the democratic potential of their relationship. In 2016 the Israeli prime minister welcomed the Greek prime minister’s visit to Israel by stating that “the Middle East’s only democracy is proud to welcome the prime minister of the world’s first democracy.”

Furthermore, at a recent conference we held on the issue at Netanya Academic College, in which we presented our findings and recommendations, the ambassadors of Greece and Cyprus to Israel, as well as an Israeli representative of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, expressed enthusiastic support for this concept.

It is now time to translate this commonality of values into a cornerstone of the partnership.

The writers took part in a trilateral research project co-managed by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at Netanya Academic College and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel office. They contributed to the publication “Promoting Liberal Democracy in the Eastern Mediterranean” available here:

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