Athens defense minister says Greece perfectly safe

Panagiotopoulos says reports Jerusalem asked his country to increase protection for Israelis are "unfounded, malicious."

Greek DM Panos Panagiotopoulos with Barak 370 (photo credit: Ariel Harmoni / Defense Ministry)
Greek DM Panos Panagiotopoulos with Barak 370
(photo credit: Ariel Harmoni / Defense Ministry)
Visiting Greek Defense Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos took offense at press reports saying Jerusalem has asked his country to increase protection for Israeli tourists, saying this is “completely unfounded and malicious.”
Greece is “the safest country in every aspect” for all tourists, and “especially those coming from the friendly state of Israel,” Panagiotopoulos said.
“Come to Greece, Greek people are waiting for you.”
A defense source said on Wednesday that Israel had asked security forces around the world, including in Cyprus and Greece, to increase protection for Israelis over the coming High Holy Days in light of warnings that Tehran will continue to target Israelis abroad.
Israel has blamed Iran and Hezbollah for a number of recent attacks on Israelis abroad, including the deadly attack in Bulgaria in July.
Panagiotopoulos, in an email exchange with The Jerusalem Post, said Greece was interested in an upgrade of the defense cooperation between Athens and Jerusalem.
“I’m of the belief that the development of partnerships amongst Mediterranean countries is an essential parameter to maintain a secured environment which will be beneficial for the whole region,” he said.
“Both countries share a common interest in maintaining a secure environment in the wider area. In plain words, this is tantamount to an upgrade of the existing defense cooperation between our nations.”
Panagiotopoulos, who met on Thursday with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the second of his three days in the country, said Israel had a “paramount” role in the unstable and fragile Middle East.
“I was one of the first, many years ago, to advocate the closer cooperation between our countries. I have even been criticized for this approach and I am very pleased today that under my capacity of minister of defense I can contribute to this policy,” he said.
“Our two nations and people have a long and prestigious history, with a great background and tradition. We have also been through some dramatic moments and tragedies and we have proved that we can survive.”
Asked in what ways the two countries could cooperate in terms of military assistance, the defense minister said he could think of areas of enhanced cooperation ranging from “administrative issues, to tactical matters to purely defensive and high-level requirements.” He did not elaborate.
Panagiotopoulos confirmed his country’s participation in a Cyprus led multinational military maneuver in October called Argonaftis 2012 focusing on the evacuation of noncombatants from Middle East conflict areas.
Israel was invited to participate, though it has not formally confirmed it will take part.
“Israel still has to decide about the level and nature of its involvement, but I am confident of its full successful involvement,” he said.