Defense Minister Yoav Gallant traveled to Athens on Thursday as part of an important trip to Greece and Cyprus.
Israel, Greece and Cyprus have become key strategic partners in recent years, cooperating closely on such areas as trade, energy, and defense and security. This new partnership is also part of a broader series of relationships in which Greece and Cyprus work with members of NATO and also with other countries such as Egypt, the UAE and India – which are close partners of Israel, as well. Gallant’s trip to these two countries is thus important for Israel’s alliances throughout the region and the world.
Gallant began his trip in Athens, where he met his Greek counterpart, Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, at the Hellenic Ministry of Defense. Gallant praised the bilateral ties between Israel and Greece and discussed the intelligence cooperation that had prevented a terrorist attack in Greece. This is an important reminder of how Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has sought to extend its threats to Athens.
Gallant noted that the recent arrest in Greece of two terrorists sent by Iran is significant. “This is not the only attack that was prevented. In fact, Iran has launched a global terror campaign, under the direct command of its leader,” he said. He also raised concerns in Greece about Iran’s nuclear weapons program, noting that Tehran has enriched uranium to 20% and 60% for five nuclear bombs.
Iran poses a threat not only to Israel, but also to other countries in the region. The fact that the Islamic Republic has threatened Greece, by trying to recruit or infiltrate terrorists into it, is a clear example of that. Tehran has also targeted Israelis in Bulgaria, Greece’s neighbor to the north. Iran’s actions show it does not respect the borders of countries and that it is willing to violate basic principles of international law to achieve its nefarious designs.
Gallant’s trip helps underscore how important it is for Israeli ministers and leaders to travel and meet their colleagues abroad. He highlighted industrial projects and intelligence sharing. The defense minister also mentioned the flight school at Kalamata Air Base, which is part of a program by Israel’s Elbit Systems to offer an important training facility for Greek pilots.
Israeli defense companies have done important work with their Greek colleagues in recent years. Rafael, for instance, recently concluded a deal to sell its Spike anti-tank missiles to Greece, which is also acquiring drones as part of that deal. Athens also signed a deal several years ago to lease IAI drones. Taken together, the overall trend is toward an unprecedented level of cooperation between Jerusalem and Athens.
Israel working to expand strategic ties with neighbors
Gallant praised the close relationship between Greece and Israel as an anchor of stability in our region. The trip to Greece, along with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s recent trip to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, are part of Israel’s efforts to significantly expand its strategic ties with countries in our vicinity.
They also reflect some of the changing dynamics in our region. Energy security in the Eastern Mediterranean, for instance, is an important issue these days because of the gas exploration off the coast and the maritime deal with Cyprus. In addition, recent joint drills with US Central Command, as well as other naval exercises undertaken by Israel, help cement our naval partnerships across the swath of water between us and Cyprus and Greece.
In the coming years, we expect to see more partnerships with Greece and Cyprus, which will include more ministerial visits as well as trade and defense deals. It is important that we invest in these agreements while working toward broadening our ties with other partners in the Mediterranean, such as France, Italy, Egypt and Turkey.
While there is an opportunity now for greater efforts toward peace and security in our region, there are also actors that would like to upset that trend, particularly Iran. That is why Gallant’s mention of Iranian threats during his visit was so important. Our partners should understand that Iran is not only a threat to Israel but also to Europe and the wider region. Gallant’s trip signals to our friends in the Mediterranean that we value their partnership.