Three events that have occurred in recent weeks point to the importance of relations between Greece and Israel: the signing of an important agreement by which Israel will train the Hellenic Air Force; IAF participation (again) in the international air exercise Iniochos
; and a meeting in Paphos of the foreign ministers of Cyprus, Greece, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
This activity is accompanied by increasing uncertainty about global and regional events, making it more important for like-minded nations to come together and coordinate their responses.
On April 16, 2021, the Greek Ministry of Defense officially signed an agreement with Elbit Systems, a leading Israeli defense contractor, for a comprehensive training package for the Hellenic Air Force, including Italian M-346 training aircraft, avionics and a set of flight simulators modeled after Israel’s own training system. Valued at more than $ 1.6 billion over 20 years, this contract has unprecedented scope and strategic implications. Lt. Gen. (res.) Benny Gantz, Israel’s Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, noted that the understandings reached with his Greek counterpart Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos highlight the growing interaction between the Israeli and Hellenic armed forces.
The same can be said for the involvement of IAF elements [Fuerza Aérea de Israel por sus siglas en inglés] (including F-15i and F-16 jets and transport aircraft) in the large cooperative aerial tactics exercise of the Hellenic Air Force, called Iniochos, in April 2021 at Andravida Air Base (together with participants from the USA, France, the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Cyprus and Canada). The IAF has been participating in this exercise since 2015 (when the only other invited Air Force was the [estadounidense] USAF). The UAE has been involved since 2017. The UAE’s willingness in 2017-2019 to train alongside the IAF was, to some extent, a sign of things to come.
This should be seen in the context of other recent military cooperation exercises between Greece and the armed forces, such as MEDUSA 2020 (mainly naval), in November-December last year, in which Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Cyprus and France participated. . Together, they constitute the pillars of a strategic alignment clearly geared to tackling various dangers to regional stability in the eastern Mediterranean.
In the same spirit, Israel’s Foreign Minister and former IDF Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi met with his Greek and Cypriot colleagues, Nikos Dendias and Nikos Christiodoulides, as well as former UAE Foreign Minister M Anwar Gargash at a recently established strategic forum in Paphos, Cyprus, to discuss a number of issues that threaten regional stability. (The current Emirati Foreign Minister, ‘Abdallah Bin Zayd al-Nahyan, participated virtually). Thus, the “Abrahamic Accords” were once again linked to the community of interests in the eastern Mediterranean (along with a shared perception of the Iranian threat).
There are obvious gains here for Israel. The IAF benefits from the opportunity to train in new and unfamiliar settings. Most significant of all is the strengthening of ties between the partners of what could be described as the chain of like-minded nations from “Abu Dhabi to Paris”, with the partnership of Israel and Greece playing an important role.
For strategic, diplomatic, military, economic, social and even cultural reasons, this relationship has become a priority for Greece. (A prominent Greek MP, Professor Dimitris Keridis, said so explicitly in the wake of President Biden’s victory in the United States.) In Israel, these developments should be viewed the same way.
The need for close coordination is made all the more urgent given Turkey’s difficult situation and Turkish President Erdogan’s intense efforts to get out of a difficult situation. Ankara faces a distinct coldness in its relations with Washington. President Biden’s first conversation with Erdogan was about the United States’ decision to acknowledge the Armenian genocide of 1915, a highly charged topic for Turkey. In response to this dramatic shift from Trump’s often (overly) friendly attitude toward Turkey, Turkish diplomacy is trying to break up the like-minded coalition in the region. This explains Turkey’s recent indications of some thaw in ties with Israel, reduced tensions over Libya, a possible reboot with Egypt (after years of open hostility toward President al-Sisi), and the Turkish courtship of the Saudis. (who are dismayed at Biden’s policies) in Yemen.
At this delicate moment, Israel’s interest is not to close the door to a possible dialogue with Turkey, but to make it very clear that in this dialogue the needs (and fears) of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt must be on the table along with the concerns. From Israel. Turkish support for Muslim Brotherhood subversion (including Hamas activities and incitement in Jerusalem) must cease. The SEZ map [Zona Económica Exclusiva] in the Mediterranean it may be possible to redraw, but only if Israeli, Greek, Egyptian and Cypriot interests are respected, including unimpeded access to European markets, whether by pipelines or otherwise. Therefore, the efforts of Greece and Egypt (backed by France) to ensure that Libya does not become a strategic complement to Turkish policy must be supported. If Turkey wants to make up lost ground in Washington, it must take these positions into account.
To maintain this position, it is important that the participants of the “Paphos Forum” act in close coordination. The immediate challenge is to counteract, from a position of strength, Erdogan’s attempts to break the alignment of forces developed in recent years.
Source: JISS – Jerusalem Institute of Strategy and Security
Colonel (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman is Vice President of the Jerusalem Institute of Strategy and Security, JISS