Athens must tread cautiously

Greece needs to tread very cautiously in light of the increasingly tense relations between Turkey and Israel. The sage thing for Athens to do right now is to exercise self-control. Instead, the government scrambled to improve its ties with Israel from the moment that the first signs of tension between Ankara and Tel Aviv appeared. The apex was a statement by Defense Minister Panos Beglitis regarding the close ?strategic? ties between Greece and Israel, made during his recent visit to the Israeli capital.

Beglitis is a minister with more than adequate experience in diplomacy as he hails from diplomatic circles. He is very well aware of the significance of words and it goes without saying that by using the term ?strategic relations? he was expressing the stance of the government rather than his own.

Some may argue that in matters of foreign affairs, Turkey does not do things by the book and often defies the rules of the West. Others may argue that Recep Tayyip Erdogan?s Turkey has grown arrogant as a result of its economic boom and is at risk of upsetting the balance in the region. Neither is of great significance even if it is true. What is certain is that the government in Ankara is extremely annoyed with Israel not only because of the way its armed forced reacted to the arrival of Turkish peace activists carrying aid to Gaza, but also because of Tel Aviv?s cooperation with Nicosia over the issue of Cyprus conducting exploratory drilling for natural gas and oil off the island?s southern coast.

Improving relations with Israel is without doubt desirable. But Greece?s problem in the region was, is and always will be Turkey, and Israel cannot be seen as a ?strategic? ally because it will never intervene in the case that a serious crisis breaks out in Greek-Turkish relations. The sooner Athens gets this into its head, the better for Greek interests and for the country?s ties with both Turkey and Israel.

Erdogan and his people are very well aware of the fact that ?strategic? cooperation on a military level between Athens and Tel Aviv is impossible or that even if it is attempted in the form of military exercises and that these somehow impinge on Ankara?s interests, then Turkey has every potential of making its presence more than just felt.

At this point, even a collaboration with Israel in the field of energy, through the delineation of the Greek Exclusive Economic Zone in the area of Kastelorizo, would be nothing short of fortune-hunting.

Major interests — of strategic and economic nature — are at stake and Greece?s position in the international arena is very much compromised right now.

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