Gantz meets with Greek counterpart, warns of continuing Iranian hostility

"Iran's double-dealing must be brought to the negotiation table," Defense Minister Benny Gantz told Greek counterpart Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos.

 Defense Minister Benny Gantz with Greek counterpart Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos during the latter's visit to Israel on January 20, 2022 (photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz with Greek counterpart Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos during the latter's visit to Israel on January 20, 2022
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)

Iran’s continued aggression, as well as the nuclear issue, must be a key part of any negotiations, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Thursday as he welcomed his Greek counterpart Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos to Israel.

“While Iranian officials deliver educated remarks in nice suits in Vienna, their proxies continue their aggressive attacks,” he said.

Referring to the Monday attack by Shi’ite Houthis in Yemen on the UAE that killed three people, Gantz said “Iran’s double-dealing must be brought to the negotiation table. Any international effort must address both the nuclear issue, as well Iranian aggression.”

The Houthis, supported by Iran, are believed to have carried out the attack with the help of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Gantz said that Israel views Greece as a “strong regional partner” that as a NATO partner plays a “big role in maintaining security and stability in the eastern Mediterranean and beyond. We value both our bilateral defense relations as well as our work in the trilateral framework, together with Cyprus.”

  Defense Minister Benny Gatnz with Greek counterpart Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos during the latter's visit to Israel on January 20, 2022 (credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY) Defense Minister Benny Gatnz with Greek counterpart Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos during the latter's visit to Israel on January 20, 2022 (credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)

Gantz previously met Panagiotopoulos in Cyprus in November 2020, alongside his Cypriot counterpart.

The defense minister said that there is “great potential to expand cooperation with old and new friends in the region, over shared interests in energy, innovation, and security.”

Nevertheless, Gantz warned, “I also see a threat that seeks to destroy the bridges that are being built – a force that feeds on chaos.”

The close ties between Israel and Greece are based on a number of shared strategic interests, and the two countries have participated in dozens of military exercises with air, sea, and ground forces, especially following the downgrading of ties with Turkey.

Turkey, which is being battered by an economic crisis, has taken steps to improve relations with a number of countries after the US dropped its support for the  EastMed pipeline, meant to transfer natural gas from Israeli waters to Europe via Greece and Cyprus.

It was reported on Tuesday that arrangements between the offices of President Isaac Herzog and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are continuing to prepare for a Herzog visit to |Turkey. It would be the first visit by an Israeli president to Turkey since Shimon Peres’ in 2007, three years before the Mavi Marmara incident scuttled relations.

A source told The Jerusalem Post that improvements in Jerusalem-Ankara relations would not come at the expense of Israel’s alliance with Greece and Cyprus, a comment echoed by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to Greek’s Kathimerini news.

“The bilateral relationship between Israel and Greece and the trilateral relationship between Israel, Greece, and Cyprus are both of the utmost importance to Israel,” Lapid said. “These partnerships stand on their own and will continue to thrive regardless of any other developments in the region. An improvement of relations between Israel and any country is never at the expense of our relations with other countries and we see our ties with Greece as strategic.”

Military relations between Greece and the United Arab Emirates, another bitter rival of Turkey, have also grown substantially in recent years and include a mutual defense  agreement. Turkey and Greece have edged to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s, including over drilling exploration rights in the Aegean.

Last year Israel and Greece signed agreements worth an estimated NIS 5.4 billion, which would see the establishment and operation of an international flight training center for the Hellenic Air Force by Elbit Systems. The two countries also agreed to consider cooperation between the Israel Air Force flight academy and the Hellenic Air Force Academy.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.