Greece’s Support of Israel was a Year in the Making

Posted on July 15, 2011

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The Electronic Intifada has this article, which traces the budding romance between Greece and Israel over the past year. I wrote something about this a week or two ago to counter some of the [pointless, in my opinion] garment-rending about how Greece was “pressured” by Israel into doing its bidding:

In July 2010, Papandreou junior visited Israel barely one month after the assault on the Mavi Marmara, in which nine Turkish peace activists (one also a US citizen) were murdered by Israeli forces. As an immediate response to that massacre, Greece called a halt to a joint military training exercise then being undertaken with Israel off the island of Crete (“World in shock at deadly Gaza ship raid,” Ynet, 31 May 2010). But Papandreou had no qualms about going ahead with his trip to Israel as planned.

Israel was swift to reciprocate. In August last year, Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli prime minister to visit Greece. Netanyahu reportedly used the occasion to recommend that the two countries be connected by a gas pipeline (““Netanyahu offers natural gas to Greece,” Haaretz, 29 August 2010).

It is not known whether the two men discussed how the Leviathan gas field — the source of the energy on Netanyahu’s radar screen at the time — is located off the Lebanese coast and how Israel’s exploitation of its reserves could spark a new conflict with Lebanon (“Gas field threatens fresh Lebanon-Israel dispute,” The Financial Times, 16 July 2010).

It is known, however, that both Israel and Greece continue to strengthen their military cooperation. The operation that was stopped at the time of the Mavi Marmara bloodbath, codenamed Minoas 2010, was in fact resumed in October last year. US-manufactured Apache and Black Hawk helicopters were used in the exercise, which tested out landing and take-off procedures in mountainous areas and under several different weather conditions (“Greece, Israel wind up military exercise,” Huerriyet, 15 October 2010).

In December, Flight International stated that there had been at least four such exercises between Greece and Israel over the preceding few months (“Israel steps up Greek training activities,” Flight International, 6 December 2010). This year, Greece joined Noble Dina, a decade-old US-Israeli anti-submarine exercise for the first time. The exercise took place between the island of Megisti and Haifa, a port city in Israel with a considerable Palestinian population (see note from US Navy’s Military Sealift Command, June 2011).

Friction between Greece’s historic foe Turkey and Israel have almost certainly helped the Netanyahu-Papandreou relationship to blossom. Papandreou is surely an astute enough politician to have scented an opportunity for Greece to replace Turkey as Israel’s most valued ally in the Mediterranean. The similarities in the men’s backgrounds could well be another factor. Both were educated at highly-regarded universities in the US (Papandreou at Harvard, Netanyahu at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and despite heading parties that are nominally different in ethos, both are heavily influenced by US politics and culture.

I’ll never understand the impulse of some pro-Palestinian advocates to treat Israel as if it is some kind of monstrous  bully in relation to the other countries of the world, themselves involved in all manner of abuse of their own citizens and the rest of the world. The latter are often portrayed as good-natured and best-intended neighbors doing their best to stand up to the state. Such simple stories lead to simple-minded advocacy and the impression that we are building a legion of allies, when we they are at best fair-weather friends. As the article concludes when describing Greece’s increasing military ties with NATO, Israel and the US:

It is true that Greece has combined its ever-tightening embrace of Israel with calls for the blockade of Gaza to be lifted […] But it is impossible to take those calls seriously now that the Athens government has assisted Israel in hindering protest against the very same blockade.

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