Greece set for Israeli PM’s visit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected today in Athens on his first official visit to Greece, as the two countries explore the possibility of strengthening their ties at a time when the traditionally close relationship between Turkey and Israel seems to be in difficulty. Netanyahu’s visit, during which he is expected to discuss with Prime Minister George Papandreou a range of issues that include Israeli jets using Greek air space for training flights, comes less than a month after the Greek PM traveled to Israel. At that time, Papandreou became the first Greek premier to visit Israel since Athens officially recognized the country in 1993. The two sides have been pursuing closer ties as Israel’s relations with Turkey appear to be worsening. The traditionally strong bonds suffered a further setback in June when Israeli commandos bordered six ships that were transporting aid to Gaza in an operation that led to eight Turks and one Turkish-American being killed. However, the incident also shook relations with Greece since two of the vessels were Greek and there were 35 Greek activists on board. Some of the Greeks claimed Israeli forces mistreated them and the Israeli ambassador in Athens, Ali Yahya, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to answer questions. As a result of the flotilla raid, Greece also withdrew from a joint air force exercise with Israel, code-named Minoas 2010, which had started on Crete. It is thought that Israel is keen to reach an agreement with Athens about similar operations in the future. Israeli officials had described Papandreou’s recent trip to Jerusalem and Palestine as leading to a «serious upgrade» of relations between the two countries. However, this idea does not please Greece’s leftist parties. «The PASOK government is taking on great responsibility,» said the Communist Party (KKE) in a statement yesterday. «By continuing New Democracy’s policy, it is not only providing political support for Israel but developing military cooperation as well.» The Synaspismos Left Coalition accused the government of descending a «slippery slope.» «It is looking back, not forward at a time when international balances are changing,» the leftists said. «It would be wrong to regard developing relations with Israel as a counterbalance to Turkey.» Several unions, including the KKE-affiliated PAME, have planned a protest at 7.30 p.m. in front of the War Museum with a march to the Israeli Embassy to follow.