Agreement on defense matters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rounded off his trip to Greece yesterday with a visit to the Saronic Gulf island of Poros, where he held further talks with Greek officials aimed at seeking cooperation between the two countries, particularly on defense issues. Prime Minister George Papandreou accompanied Netanyahu to Poros. The pair sat down for talks there with Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos, Deputy Defense Minister Panos Beglitis and Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas. One of the key items on the agenda was the strengthening of cooperation between Greece and Israel on military issues. It was agreed that the joint air force exercise, Minoas, which was canceled when Israeli commandos boarded ships carrying aid to Gaza in June, should be completed this October. The two sides also agreed that a visit to Greece by the Israeli air force chief, also postponed for the same reason, should now go ahead. Israel has limited air space and is keen to reach agreements with other countries to carry out joint exercises. For many years, Turkey had obliged but relations between Ankara and Jerusalem have deteriorated this year. It was also agreed yesterday that Venizelos should soon visit Israel so the two countries can discuss other areas of military cooperation. Greek diplomatic sources denied suggestions that Athens was seeking to capitalize on the current thorny relations between Israel and Turkey, insisting that there is a long-term strategy to fostering closer ties with Jerusalem. They also stressed that they do not see a warmer relationship with Israel as signifying a cooling of ties with Turkey, which have also been rekindled recently, or with the Arab countries with which Greece has traditionally had close ties. The same sources also underlined that Greece is not looking to punch above its weight in the region and is well aware of the limited role that it can play in something like the Middle East peace process, even though Papandreou has offered to help bridge the divide between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Netanyahu also met with New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, who described the conversation between the two men as «very useful.» The Communist Party accused the government of «absolving the Israeli leadership of guilt in the face of the Palestinian people.» The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) said that Greece’s policy was in line with the «general schemes» of the USA and aided «an isolated Israel.»