By Charles J. Mouratides
Executive Director, CHI
As Greek political parties race towards the June 17 national elections, the country faces, for the first time, blatant attempts to create doubts about Greece’s most significant international alliance since joining the EU.
The Association of Radical Left, SYRIZA party, is attempting to fuel a controversy around the multifaceted Alliance between Israel and Greece, with its parallel rapprochement between Israel and Cyprus.
But radical left’s style of dogmatic expression deprives us of an informed, logical assessment of what the Alliance is accomplishing for Greece.
Highly placed Israeli officials and diplomats say that they have not yet assessed SYRIZA’s position nor formulated a concrete picture of its intentions.
Panayiotis Lafazanis, a leading deputy of SYRIZA, was featured in an interview in ISKRA, a party website, claiming: a) The Alliance makes Greece a satellite of Israel; b) It is immoral because it places Greece in opposition to the Palestinians and Moslem nations; c) Greece and Cyprus risk Turkish wrath if they develop their natural gas resources with the help of Israel and the U.S.
Therefore, I propose that we assess the Alliance from an informed, practical, Greek national-interest viewpoint; not with the inflexible straightjacket of an ideology flaunting political slogans that ignore the facts.
Greece’s Alliance with Israel has:
1) Opened up the vistas for unprecedented economic development from natural gas and oil reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean basin;
2) Resulted in extensive tourism and other trade with Greece;
3) Upgraded the defense profile of Greece because it features pacts between Greek and Israeli air and naval forces.
4) Raised Greece geopolitically, as it shifts from unproductive liaisons exclusively with Arab countries into an active, goals-oriented relationship;
Here I explain the factual basis for my four assertions:
First, Israel has completed the only effective natural gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, at more than 16,000 feet below the surface. It is already digging off-shore and has also discovered the huge fields Tamar and Leviathan, close to Cyprus and Greece. Israel will become an energy exporter.
Greece, Cyprus and Israel have already signed agreements for immediate construction of an underwater electricity cable securing electrical backup with Europe. Agreements also envision an underwater gas pipeline from the Eastern Mediterranean, through Crete and Peloponnesus, to Western Europe which is now heavily dependent on Russian energy supplies.
Second, if allies and friends prove themselves during times of crisis, Israel has come through with flying colors (just as Greece did when it stopped ships threatening the Israeli boycott of arms to Gaza.)
Israel lobbied with EU governments and the U.S., openly supporting financial aid to Greece. It was an effort so intense that newspapers called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “the Greek lobby.” Incidentally, Lafazanis says he dislikes the Alliance as Israel moved more to the right when Netanyahu formed a coalition government commanding 3/4ths of Israel’s parliament.
Another form of support to Greece has had immediate impact: Israeli/Jewish tourism to Greece has increased from under 100,000 tourists before 2010, to 200,000 in 2011, and to an expected more than 400,000 in 2012.
Furthermore, Israel and Greece recently announced a research and technology program to encourage business cooperation. Any Greek business, regardless of size, may participate through the Secretariat for Research and Technology. Business sectors cover agro-biology and food products; materials/chemicals; health, biology and biotechnology; renewable energy; environment, and space research and technology. Israel is an international leader in all these areas.
Third, Greece and Israel have been holding common air force and naval exercises, and Greece is scheduled to receive weapons produced in Israel. This spring, Israel, the U.S. and Greece held a common sea/air exercise among whose stated purposes was the defense of hydrocarbon platforms in open sea.
Israel, which has a combined exploration program with Cyprus within the latter’s Exclusive Economic Zone (in Greek, AOZ), has announced that it will defend the project against any hostile action. Thus, even though Turkey threatens Greece and Cyprus against digging for hydrocarbons, it has failed to interfere in Cyprus’s case. On the other hand, Turkish threats over the past 50 years have stopped Greece from exploring the Aegean.
Opposition Disregards Benefits
Alliance opponents reject the idea of any Greek cooperation with Israel or the U.S. regardless of benefits to Greece. Many employ hypothetical constructs and dance around the facts. Lacking basic logic, foes claim that Greece would be better off if it deals with Turkey alone. The fact is, Turkey is more likely to restrain itself from attacking an internationally accepted lawful digging if it also involves the U.S. and Israel.
Greek exploration rights in the Aegean have been upheld by the U.S., Israel and the EU. Israel has distributed an areawide AOZ map supporting Greece. Would Turkey attack an American company exploring legally in the Aegean?
Fourth, the Alliance helps Greece and Cyprus geopolitically. Even while civil wars rage all around, Turkey’s leaders have been hallucinating with Ottoman grandiose schemes. However, Turkey’s credibility is zero no matter how Islamist it becomes. Middle East Arabs, especially those following Saudi Arabia, reject Turkish leadership. Balkan Muslims are scared of neo-Ottomanism because they shed blood fighting the Ottomans. The West is worried.
The West, particularly the U.S., has also been discovering that Turkey is an undependable ally. At the same time, Turkey detects the danger of eventually losing its unique status as the EU oil venue. Today, much Russian oil is carried by pipelines and tankers from Siberia or the Caspian Sea through Turkey’s Asia Minor and the Dardanelles Strait to Europe.
Suddenly come Israel, Greece and Cyprus, and through their gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean become an energy supplier to Europe. Furthermore, the fields are within EU borders and explored by EU countries, Greece and Cyprus.
It is no wonder that Turkey feels anxious. The real wonder is that, given the facts and Greece’ s suffering economy, SYRIZA leaders disregard Alliance benefits to the nation simply to justify political straightjacket dogma.