By John M. Nomikos *
(Updated March 2012)
Related Links: Greece Virtual Jewish History Tour | Jews in Greece | Greek Synagogues
Both Greece and Turkey recognized the State of Israel in the late 1940s, but were diplomatically represented in Tel Aviv on lower-than-embassy levels. Still, largely for strategic reasons, Israel and Turkey maintained fairly close relations while only interaction between Israel and Greece was minimal. Over the years, Greek relations with Israel have been complicated by the rivalry between Greece and Turkey.
In September 1998, Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai denied that Turkey's visiting Prime Minister was seeking Israeli support should fighting break out with Greece over Cyprus.Turkish-Israeli cooperation is not against any other country, Mesut Yilmaz said during a welcoming ceremony with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Greek-Israeli relations were stagnant for almost 45 years. Changes began to occur in 1995 due to several factors. One was Greece's desire to increase its deterrent power vis-a-vis Turkey. Another element was the death of the pro-PLO Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou in June 1996. The improvement in U.S.-Greece relations also encouraged a shift toward Israel, as did the progress in the Middle East Peace negotiations.
The improvement in relations was reflected in the increase in trade, which doubled between 1989 and 1995. That year Israel exported $200 million worth of chemicals and oil products to Greece and imported $150 million worth of cement, food, and building materials. Israel is, in fact, the Middle Easts second largest importer for Greek products.
A Greek-Israeli cooperation agreement on military affairs was concluded as early as December 1994 (predating the Turkish-Israeli agreement of February 1996); however, both sides refrained from activating the agreement. Greece was apparently concerned about alienating the Arab world while Israel did not wish to upset the Turks. Greece and Israel agreed to hold joint naval maneuvers at the end of the summer 1997, but they were indefinitely postponed by the Greeks. The reason given for the postponement was that the Greek navy was busy preventing infiltrations from Albania, and it could not spare a frigate for the exercises.
In August 2010, PM Netanyahu became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit Greece. On his two-day tour, PM Netanyahu discussed with Greek PM George Papandreou the possibility of expanding strategic ties and establishing greater cooperation between the nations' militaries and related industries. Israel was keen to expand ties with Greece since its relations with Turkey soured following the Gaza flotilla incident in May 2010.
In January 2012, that expansion of ties became more official when the Greek and Israeli defense ministers announced the signing of a defense cooperation agreement. The pact was cemented during Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's trip to Greece, the fourth such trip by a high-ranking Israeli government official since the summer of 2010. "We are committed to work together to deepen our relations in defence and security," said Barak. "We have to be prepared for many kinds of developments. ... We must think ahead of time and work together."
In March 2012, the Greek-Israel cooperation took a another step forward when Israeli Energy & Water Minister, Uzi Landau, signed a agreement with Greek Environment, Energy and Climate Minister George Papaconstantinou for cooperation between their two countries in the field of environmental protection. The agreement calls for exchanging knowledge and sharing expertise, with particular emphasis on issues of water management, sewage treatment and reuse, desalination, bio-gas and biomass production, energy efficiency and other elements. Landau also signed a memorandum of understanding with his Greek counterpart for the construction of an electric cable from Israel to Cyprus to Greece, which will allow for redundancy, reciprocal backup, security and long-term domestic energy for all the parties involved.
* John Nomikos is a security analyst in Athens, Greece. The most recent updates to this article are not from his work.