(Foreign Affairs Editor, nrg maariv. Israel)
The announcement of the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou that his country will help Israel to get closer to the European Union was another indication to the growing relationship between the two states. After years of suspicion and distrust, Jerusalem and Athens are building rapidly a strategic partnership, which will reach a new height when the two governments will hold a joint meeting in April.Neither Israel nor Greece define Turkey as an enemy, but the deterioration in the relations between Israel and Turkey since operation "Cast Lead" in December 2008-January 2009 brought Jerusalem closer to Athens, the long time rival of Ankara, and laid the foundations for the new relationship.
Israel can benefit a lot from the relationship with Greece. The first dimension is the civilian cooperation. After the fire broke out on the Carmel Mountain, the Greek government reacted fast and sent some of its planes to help extinguish the flames. The experience of Greece with large-scale fires and the experience of the rescue teams of the Israeli army (IDF) can be the basis for a broader cooperation in events of natural disasters, which could be expanded later to other countries.
Israel can also benefit from the security cooperation with Athens. Greece is located farther then turkey and this enables the Israeli pilots an opportunity to exercise long range flights, as was demonstrated a few months ago when the two air forces conducted a joint maneuvers.
Both countries can also share their experience in the fight against terror. The last few months showed the return of the anarchist terrorism to the streets of Athens and there is information that pro-Iranian and pro-Hizbollah activists are operating in Greece. Intelligence sharing and joint cooperation between the police forces can help dealing with those threats. Before the 2004 Olympic Games, Israeli consultants helped the Greek security services to prepare for scenarios of terror attacks. There is no reason why this kind of cooperation would not renew.
The political aspect is also very important for Israel. Greece has a long relationship with the Arab world, and especially with the Palestinians, and that can be used as channels of communications in order to reactive the peace process between Israel and its neighbors. Moreover, when there is a distressing process inside Europe of de-legitimating the Jewish state, Israel needs an ally like Greece when it tries to highlight it right to live in peace and security and defend its population from outside threats in a volatile region.
The Israeli tourists can benefit from the opportunities for vacation in Greece, which definitely provide an alternative to Turkey. Ancient sites, long beaches, clubs and picturesque villages can attract the Israelis, who known for their love to Greek music.
All the above are only a few examples of the vast potential for the Israeli-Greek relations. Of course, there can be some disagreements and arguments, but as the last two years have shown – there is a mutual will to strengthen the cooperation and there is a great hope that the relationship will continue to blossom in the future for the benefits of both countries.