Tom Ellis TOM ELLIS

Greece in the new East Med regional security scheme

COMMENT

TAGS: Politics, Diplomacy

Developments over the last few years have upset many of the traditional relationships and partnerships in the Eastern Mediterranean and Greece now finds itself at the center of the new stage that has emerged. It is true that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s confrontational attitude toward the United States and Israel, as well as Egypt under the leadership of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has played a catalytic role.

However, circumstances have also changed due to the choice of successive Greek governments to forge a closer strategic relationship with Israel. The skepticism that was indeed present in the past has given way to an honest desire for cooperation, which is bearing fruit.

The first step in this direction was made by George Papandreou in July 2010. Having spearheaded this new approach, he was able to move forward because of the tension between Turkey and Israel. Everyone may say that the different state and regional partnerships are not aimed at edging out anyone else, but the Turkish president’s statements and actions undoubtedly facilitated the Greece-Israel relationship.

Ever since, the relationship has flourished, developing its own momentum, and is becoming deeper on several levels following the establishment of a tripartite alliance that includes Cyprus, and the expansion of cooperation into an increasing and diverse number of areas.

The rise in tourism between the two countries is not just resulting in the obvious economic benefits, but is also very important in reversing stereotypes and building bridges between people, something that has proven extremely challenging for other countries in the region which have chosen a different path, and that is true not only of their leaders but also of the societies themselves.

In the meantime, an excellent relationship between Athens and Washington is also contributing to this new regional framework. This is unprecedented for a leftist government, but here too we are seeing a break with the past and, whatever the reason, it is a welcome development that some are starting to realize that defending the country’s interests comes above any ideological fixations.

In that context, a strategic dialogue between the US and Greece is slated to start next month in Washington and will be followed by the process of the US’s gradual inclusion into Greece and Cyprus’s tripartite partnerships with Israel, but also with Jordan and Egypt.

This will result in a new security framework in the Eastern Mediterranean that will involve the US, but will also endow Greece with a starring role not only as a result of its geographic location but also due to the fact that it is the only member of both NATO and the European Union in the region.

The government and the opposition – in a democracy the roles will alternate, but the national strategy here should and will transcend people and parties – will be judged by how they handle this new framework and the degree to which they take advantage of the opportunities it presents.

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