Israel, Greece and Cyprus are holding their fifth tripartite summit in Beersheba. This type of dialogue has been institutionalized yielding some initial results and creating good perspectives for cooperation in the long-term.
The difference between the Beersheba meeting and the previous ones is that it is taking place less than a week after the US openly expressed its interest to support the initiative of Jerusalem, Athens and Nicosia. Although the US presence was never invisible, the State Department’s statement is adding gravitas to the trilateral collaboration scheme.
The rapprochement between Turkey and Russia and their deal for the supply of S-400 missiles has generated concern in Washington, which seeks to count on partners that it generally considers more reliable and sincere.
If this was taken for granted in US-Israeli relations, it is slowly but steadily becoming the case for US-Greek relations. The launch of the inaugural strategic dialogue between the US and Greece outlines the good momentum.
The former counts on the importance of the latter as a stability hub.
Volatility in the Balkan Peninsula as well as the Russian opposition to the enlargement of NATO underline why Greece matters from an American angle. The support of the Greek government for the Prespes Agreement, for example, is a sine qua non parameter for new political developments in the Balkans. Israel is also pursuing – albeit quietly – a proactive role in the region. Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Varna, Bulgaria as a guest of honor at the Craiova Group summit, a gathering of Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian and Romanian leaders.
As far as natural gas explorations in the economic zone of Cyprus are concerned, it is perhaps the first time the US does not publicly follow the policy of equal distances. US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell encouraged Cyprus to develop its resources, characterized Turkey’s view “a minority of one versus the rest of the world,” and expressed his country’s opposition to any kind of harassment in Cypriot waters. Washington and Nicosia are also improving their bilateral relationship – a move that Moscow is not prepared to digest. A few weeks ago the two sides signed a statement of intent on security affairs.
Russia reacted fiercely against what is sees as an alleged US plan to militarize Cyprus.
Under these circumstances, the potential construction of the East Med pipeline to transport natural gas from the Levantine Basin to Israel, Cyprus, Greece and other European countries seems more necessary than ever. Here, American support is critical. Although the East Med project costs more than alternative options, its contribution to security is unquestionable. Its realization could therefore be prioritized.
Beyond geopolitics and energy, the Beersheba trilateral summit will give the opportunity to the Greek and Cypriot delegations led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and President Nicos Anastasiades to learn about a place that might be described as a “cyber city.” Dialogue on communication and cyber technologies is expected to advance since both Greece and Cyprus are highly interested in Israeli expertise. The process – supported at the highest political level – is continuously engaging start-ups. In the last few months, the Embassy of Israel in Athens and MIT Enterprise Forum Greece co-organized a competition-event for Greek participants.
The winner had the opportunity to join the Start Haifa 2018 international workshop that was held at the beginning of December.
As far as economic collaboration is concerned, progress is significant.
On Monday, Energean Oil & Gas announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Israel in consideration for constructing and transferring to Israel Natural Gas Lines, the onshore and near shore part of natural gas facilities for the Karish and Tanin development. Israeli foreign direct investments in Greece remain relatively low though. They amounted to €32 million in 2017 and €26.7 million in 2016. But the ongoing interest of Israeli companies in the real estate sector, hotels and the food industry in Greece can perhaps lead to an increase of the turnover in the future.
The only bad news is that the Thessaloniki Holocaust Memorial was vandalized last week for a second time in a year. Although this unacceptable act does not conform with improving the image of Israel in Greece and Cyprus, it constitutes a warning signal. A nexus of collaboration between the communities of the three countries will certainly contribute to a better understanding and make antisemitism history.
The author is a research associate at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, and a senior associate and lecturer at the European Institute of Nice and the Democritus University of Thrace.