Enduring strength of Greek-Israel partnership

Enduring strength of Greek-Israel partnership

There is a tendency to portray Turkey-Israel and Greece-Israel relations as a zero-sum game, and hence to see the visit to Turkey of Israel’s President Isaac Herzog as something that should concern Athens. This simplistic portrayal, that one relationship should be at the expense of the other, ignores both cooperation on many nonconflictual issues and the need for broader regional cooperation on certain matters.

However, even if one focuses on the strategic dimension and looks back to the 2016 normalization agreement between Turkey and Israel – relations between Greece, Cyprus and Israel were only strengthened then from this development. That was the year in which the trilateral mechanism between the three heads of state of Greece, Cyprus and Israel was put in place. Since 2016, there have been eight trilateral Greece-Cyprus-Israel summits which have fortified relations between the states.

If Turkey’s current seemingly tactical U-turns in its relations with several regional actors including Israel and Greece become a strategic long-standing development, then that may indeed weaken some aspects of the Hellenic-Israeli partnership. In such a case, a more moderate Turkey will be the reason for a decreased sense of threat of the regional actors.

If, on the other hand, Turkey’s U-turns are only a temporary development, then Israel-Greece-Cyprus relations will remain as they are today. Israel is treading carefully in its relations with Ankara and will not let its guard down anytime soon. Hence there should be no effect on Greece-Israel relations in the short to medium term from the Turkey-Israel rapprochement.

Another layer which adds to the chances that Turkey will maintain the more cooperative approach toward Israel and Greece is the war in Ukraine and its ramifications. Turkey and Greece as NATO members obviously have much to discuss in this respect, but also mediation efforts of Turkey and Israel between Russia and Ukraine should be coordinated. Moreover, there are already signs that the way this war will impact the global power structures will be in a manner that will make it more rewardable for Turkey and Greece and for Turkey and Israel to cooperate.

Israel will not support Turkey’s positions on maritime borders delimitation in the Eastern Mediterranean when these are in conflict with the Greek and Cypriot positions 

While Ankara has been vocal in its emphasis that the current rapprochement between Turkey and Israel may translate also into cooperation in the energy field, the response from the Israeli side has been skeptical. A perquisite for cooperation between Jerusalem and Ankara on the export of natural gas will have to be a positive advancement on the Cyprus issue. Israel will not support Turkey’s positions on maritime borders delimitation in the Eastern Mediterranean when these are in conflict with the Greek and Cypriot positions. Contrary to Turkey’s expectations, a more likely scenario will be that Israel will continue relying on Egyptian liquefying facilities for the export of gas.

Lastly, regarding climate change mitigation and adaptation mechanisms, and specifically renewable energy, Greece, Cyprus and Israel should seek to find ways to integrate Turkey, as well as other regional actors, in a scheme that will deal with these issues. Whether this can be done through making the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) more inclusive or through a new organization can be further discussed, but there is a pressing need for such thinking.

Gallia Lindenstrauss is a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv University.

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