Greece is not going to solve the problems in the Middle East, nor is its voice strong enough to convince the warring sides to cease hostilities. It has, however, managed to become a reliable interlocutor, respected by all.
Over the past decade Greece has developed a role in the Eastern Mediterranean, thanks in part to partnerships with other countries, including some of the global heavyweights. With bipartisan support from the United States, it has steadily evolved into a frontline country in a part of the world that is particularly sensitive for the US. Moreover, as the superpower increasingly turns its attention to China, the geostrategic importance it attaches to countries with Greece’s comparative advantages, such as proximity and knowledge of the area, only grows greater.
By deepening bilateral relations and forging multilateral partnerships with Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, among others – yesterday’s meeting of the foreign ministers of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt in Nicosia being a case in point – Athens is very much present in the region.
The visit by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias to Israel on Tuesday and his talks with his Israeli counterpart, as well as with the Palestinian prime minister, confirm the acceptance and confidence earned by Greece, which has an additional interest in the region because of the Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem.
It has been said many times and it is true: Long-standing traditional bonds with the Arab world, which remain strong today, in combination with the strategic relationship developed more recently with Israel, endow Greece with a natural role in developments; it may not be the most influential or powerful, but it is a player that may prove useful. And in tandem with powerful states and international organizations, it could even play a bigger role than it theoretically merits.
It cannot be overlooked, for example, that Nikos Dendias was the first Western minister to visit the area since fighting began.
But ensuring that Greece gets this role if and when the time comes requires tact and the avoidance of the kind of subjective exaggerations and outbursts that have burned bridges for other countries and trapped them in extreme positions.
For the time being, Athens is acting wisely. It is stating its presence while maintaining a moderate and balanced stance.