There has been a significant, and somewhat unexpected, warming of relations between Greece and Israel over the last few months, a journalists’ forum in Athens heard on Tuesday.
Tel Aviv had been concerned that it would find it difficult to work with the SYRIZA-led administration in Athens but this has not been the case, Israeli journalists said at the forum, titled “Geopolitical Shifts and Challenges in the East Mediterranean and Middle East,” which was organized by Kathimerini and the Israeli Embassy in Greece.
“One advantage of troubles is that they create opportunities and friends,” commented Nahum Barnea, senior political editor and columnist at Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
He noted the good relations between Greece and Israel and also the potential of warmer ties with Turkey, after a deep chill over the past few years.
“Under [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, the love affair between Israel and Turkey is over,” he added.
“But common interest is so strong, because Turkey failed so much in all their strategies – they lost Egypt, they lost Russia, they lost [Syrian President Bashir] Assad as friends.”
The visiting journalists also noted that while ties between Israel and Turkey are improving, from the low point in the wake of the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, they are unlikely to return to the state they were in before Israeli commandos boarded the ship carrying activists, leading to nine people being killed.
Dana Weiss, anchor and chief correspondent for “Saturday Night News” on Israel’s Channel 2, noted that 100 years after the signing of the Sykes-Picot agreement, named after the British and French diplomats who drew lines on a map dividing the Middle East, the whole region is in flux.
“We are in a transitional phase in the Middle East,” she said. “There has to be a new order. There is instability as different forces are trying to gain as much influence as possible.”
Weiss stressed another dimension to the turmoil in the Middle East – Israel finds itself with lesser threats than in the past.
“There is no one military force capable of wiping Israel off the map,” she noted.
“Egypt, Syria… all these armies are off the table. We have terror groups – ISIS, and Iranian proxies Hezbollah and Hamas… [But] existential threats to Israel are off the table.”
Amos Harel, chief military correspondent at Haaretz newspaper, also saw “some positive signs,” adding that “Israel has been relatively safe,” with citizens much more concerned about the threat of Iran and the so-called Islamic State than the Palestinian issue.
He listed two major issues: “first, the implications of the Arab upheaval, where nothing is stable; second, the Palestinian issue. Stabbing attacks etc. We’ve been through harder times but this is a reminder that we haven’t solved our problems with the Palestinians and the debate is tearing Israeli society apart.”
The representatives of the Israeli media also stressed that there is genuine potential for cooperation between Greece and Israel in the energy sector but that this has been held up because of domestic political reasons.
Weiss noted that in Israeli “no one sees this as a strategic issue,” adding that it has become the focus of populist outrage, with critics claiming that the natural gas finds off Israel are serving only to make rich people richer at the expense of the citizens.
Thanos Dokos, director general of the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) and a contributor to Kathimerini, noted that among the major changes and challenges in the region, the foundation of a Kurdish state, at least in northern Iraq, seemed a certainty. “It is a question of ‘when,’ not ‘if,’” he said.
Kathimerini’s managing editor, Nikos Konstandaras, also took part in the forum, which was held at the Cervantes Institute, and Kathimerini’s diplomatic correspondent Tom Ellis moderated.