Cooperating with Israel

It took many years, and a major rift in Turkish-Israeli relations, before Athens decided to make a serious bid to strengthen its ties with Tel Aviv – a foreign policy move that could benefit Greece in many different ways.

The fresh round of contacts between the two nations – a drive launched by Greece?s Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou – started last spring and has since seen considerable progress. The meetings between the two premiers in the summer were followed by contacts between the two foreign ministers and other senior government officials. This week, Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas and his visiting Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman agreed to establish a bilateral ministerial council aimed at boosting cooperation in key sectors such as energy and tourism. The two countries of course are already cooperating on sensitive security areas.

The new foreign policy appears to enjoy the support of both mainstream political parties. Papandreou has in the past shown that he truly believes in this relationship and has been cultivating ties with Jewish organizations in the United States over the last few years. For his part, conservative opposition leader Antonis Samaras was foreign minister when a New Democracy government offered Israel full recognition in the early 1990s – notably during a very tense period as Israel was faced with the Palestinian intifada.

Samaras has now thrown his weight behind the premier?s new foreign policy doctrine and, in that sense, he has every reason to accept the invitation from Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel and chairman of the ideologically akin Likud party, to visit Israel in the coming months.

Dora Bakoyannis, who recently formed the Democratic Alliance political grouping after being expelled from ND in May last year, also has a good name among Israeli officials – mostly a legacy of Constantine Mitsotakis, Bakoyannis?s father and former conservative leader.

Greece?s traditional ties with the Arab world should not be an obstacle to cooperation with Israel. Moreover, Greek officials should not look at the relationship with Israel through the prism of Turkish-Israeli ties, which are currently at a low point. This could prove to be no more than a temporary spat.

Greece and Israel are also brought closer together thanks to their special ties to the US. Sure, the Greek diaspora is less powerful than the Jewish one, but it nevertheless remains one of the largest ethnic groups in America. A number of surveys conducted since the presidential candidacy of Michael Dukakis have found that the Greek community ranks second in terms of economic power and academic excellence. The Greek lobby has already established contact with the powerful Jewish lobby and the warming of ties between the mother countries should herald further cooperation in the US Congress and other institutions. As a result, conditions are ripe for forging a new relationship that will demand a fresh approach from both sides. There will, naturally, be disagreements on some issues but, at the same time, it?s an opportunity to overcome old stereotypes and prejudices and sow the seeds for a longstanding and mutually beneficial alliance.

In addition to the joint business activity in tourism and other sectors, there is the prospect of cooperation in the energy sector. Moreover, the emerging relationship could result in a different approach to the Greek economy on the part of major credit institutions run by Jewish interests. As David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), said in a previous interview with Kathimerini, ?a friend in need is a friend indeed.? That is provided that he too is convinced that the other is a real friend and not an opportunist.