Benjamin Netanyahu’s departure after having been Israel’s prime minister for the past 12 years (he also headed the government from 1996-99, making him the longest-serving PM in the nation’s history, with 15 years in total) will not affect Greek-Israeli relations, which have gained significant depth on the bilateral level and are part of a broader geopolitical setting that is above political developments in either country.
In both Greece and Israel, across the political spectrum, there is strong support for close and multilevel cooperation between the two countries. As time passes, this support has become a strategic choice.
The crisis in Israeli-Turkish relations that started in 2010 and was exacerbated by the Turkish president’s overall stance may have indirectly helped shape a different climate between Israel and Greece, but, over the years, this acquired a dynamic that has taken on a life of its own and is above specific leaders and governments, and even ideologies – as evidenced by SYRIZA’s time at the helm in Athens, during which bilateral and trilateral (with Cyprus) cooperation moved ahead apace, with very positive results for everyone involved, despite serious reservations at the beginning from many Israeli diplomats and government officials.
Just as relations improved on the Greek side under George Papandreou and continued along the same path under Antonis Samaras, Alexis Tsipras and now under Kyriakos Mitsotakis, this will not change with a new government on the Israeli side.
The support for the relationship is also evidenced by the fact that almost every top official in the new Israeli government has been involved in strengthening the cooperation framework with Greece, including the prime minister and the ministers of foreign affairs, defense and finance.
The new premier, Naftali Bennett, was Netanyahu’s chief of staff and was there during the evolution of bilateral ties with Greece, while he has also been critical of Turkey, as has Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who will take over as prime minister in the new second half of the new government’s term, if the fragile coalition that supports him holds.
The same is also the case with the defense minister and former head of the armed forces, Benny Gantz, who is staying in the post, while hardliner Avigdor Lieberman, who is now finance minister, was instrumental in promoting joint military exercises, among other initiatives, during his stints as foreign and defense minister.
The close ties between the two countries are only confirmed by the presence of 12 Israeli companies and the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Department of International Defense Cooperation at the Defense Exhibition Athens next month.
So, as the new government takes over in Jerusalem, it seems safe to say that the relationship with Athens, which constitutes a pillar of stability in a volatile region – of special interest to the United States and the European Union – will be defined by continuity and consistency, serving the interests of both countries.