Greece’s standoffish posture toward Israel for the better part of the post-World War II period, and its long involvement in a “Greek-Arab friendship” that has served as an ideological blunt instrument more than anything else, always precluded a more rational assessment of Greece-Israel relations by Greek governments.
Greek politicians, with very few exceptions, accepted a muffled, widespread rejection of closer relations with Jerusalem as a given part of the Greek political narrative. Unfortunately, this attitude dies hard and still prompts the unnecessary display of ideologically induced, self-righteous ire like this example, which kills diplomacy -- any kind of diplomacy -- with a fillet knife on top of demonstrating a distinct lack of perception on the part of those who act in this fashion.
Such phenomena apart, a realistic Greece-Israel convergence on defense, as the critical corollary to a broader rapprochement between Athens and Jerusalem, is the one issue that should have been on the table yesterday rather than waiting in the Inbox since the early nineties. In the interest of clarity, let us mention quickly the following points that we believe should underlie any significant movement in Greek-Israeli defense cooperation.
• As an introduction, Greece and Israel should work out ways that would accelerate joint training at key levels and operational environments. Israel’s Glorious Spartan drill in 2008 was an unexpectedly successful dry run for expanded Greek-Israeli joint air training, which was appreciated by those Greeks who had intimate knowledge of it. The lessons of that exercise should form a central part in any reworked proposals on how such training could proceed.
• While “practical matters” are of keen interest no doubt, what is even more important, in the longer term and from a Greek perspective, is for Greek defense practitioners to seek to exploit Israel’s vast experience in strategic attitude formation, concept building, doctrine construction and implementation, and skills related to operational art. This could be an education project, so to speak, that would form the backbone in any substantive negotiation to inaugurate Greek-Israeli defense cooperation, provided of course that Greek policymakers will correctly appreciate its importance and find the will to break attitudinal barriers erected over many decades.
• Both Greece and Israel could greatly benefit from intelligence sharing. While the level of hands-on expertise between the two countries is notably different, with Israel a globally recognized expert, the two sides could complement each other, initially on less ambitious “technical” cases. Greece, for example, is now the open channel to masses of illegal Islamic immigration, bringing along with it the possibility of unspecified “unorthodox” traffic that could be of imminent interest to both the channel country’s and Israel’s intelligence agencies. Conversely, Greece urgently needs know-how on identifying, analyzing, and countering fanatical extremist threats which were unknown in Hellas only a few short years ago.
• While Israel maintains a remarkable fitness in things defense, it can still use a boost in the all-important strategic department of perceptions: a successful defense cooperation formula, linking a “veteran” EU member state, located crucially in southeast Europe, with Israel, and with practicable results for all to see, could be a significant success in the right direction at a time when the extermination rhetoric against the Jewish State, so familiar from earlier, darker times, is again being heard from various quarters.
A former Greek president remarked once that Greece is “a Nation without brothers” (Ethnos Anadelphon, in Greek) wishing apparently to highlight his belief that Greece could depend on no one else but itself. We are not aware of a similar statement from a top Israeli politician, but there is a good chance many Israelis would identify with these words as they carry a poignant meaning in the case of their homeland, surrounded as it is by a sea of hostility. In such circumstances, prospects of cooperation on how to defend one’s self between Greece and Israel acquire an added positive dynamic.
Israel, of course, has learned the hard and bloody way the strategic significance of self-sufficiency and responding to life-threatening situations with various gradations of force. Greece, which had a far more secure history, at least since 1949, with only brief flash crises, is itself entering a period of uncertainty as we speak despite ongoing European “integration”. The Balkans is always… the Balkans and pre-Islamic Turkey looms large, unpredictable, and menacing across the Aegean. Similarly, Israel, despite decades of “peace processes,” mediations, “plans,” and other such, is nowhere nearer a firmly established peace than when reaching previous “turning points” and beginnings of “road maps”. And Iran is not going away any time soon.
Greece has much to learn from the Israeli national defense mindset, especially at a time when cheap domestic political expediencies are weakening the country’s defense posture through “reform”. Israel, on the other hand, will strategically benefit from a steadier, more confident Greece engaged in a carefully crafted mutual defense cooperation agreement.
Israel, by hand of much greater forces of history, has no firm “anchor” points in its immediate regional periphery. A Greek-Israeli bridge, well constructed with the proper materials, could work small wonders in gradually remedying that.