The first visits to Washington and Jerusalem
It’s only three weeks since Nikos Dendias took over the foreign affairs portfolio, but he has already sent a pretty clear signal regarding the new government’s foreign policy priorities.
Two weeks ago Dendias visited the United States, where he met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton and lawmakers with an interest in and influence on Greece-related issues. On Sunday, he traveled to Israel, where he met with President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his counterpart Israel Katz. He then accompanied Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during the latter’s visit to Cyprus.
Early moves demonstrate that Athens will be investing in the same axis of security and common interests as previous Greek governments of different colors have done over the previous years. The so-called 3+1 regional cooperation initiative (which in addition to Greece, Cyprus and Israel also includes the US) is significant to all four countries. The three neighbors don’t just share democratic values (which, it has to be said, is not the rule in the area); they are also advancing a platform of common needs and interests.
At the bilateral level in Greek-Israeli relations, there is room for strengthening ties even further, particularly in the areas of economy and trade. Already, the number of Israeli visitors has skyrocketed, a Greek company has been very active and successful in the extraction of natural gas from Israeli deposits, while innovation could be the common denominator in many mutually beneficial actions. Meanwhile, Greece and Cyprus are the natural gateway for Israeli exports to the European Union.
However, security remains the central area of concern, hence the defense cooperation includes joint military drills (air space depth is key to Israel). For Greeks the cooperation with Israel has evolved and deepened over the course of the past nine years as the Jerusalem-Athens axis grew into a long-term, cross-party strategy.
The US and Israel are aware of the determination with which Greece and Cyprus have chosen to push for this new strategic security scheme emerging in the Eastern Mediterranean – a scheme that at the end of the day promotes Washington and Jerusalem’s interests through the use of military bases and intelligence sharing. At the same time they are aware of the two countries’ concerns over Ankara’s activities and the threats coming from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and senior Turkish officials.
Through that strategic prism the prospect of a serious Turkish provocation in the coming period should be of concern to them also, prompting caution and actions on their part, symbolic as well as tangible, both in the open and behind closed doors.