Arutz Sheva has reported, “2,000 years after Judah the Maccabee fought against the decrees of Greek ruler Antiochus IV, the descendants of the Hasmoneans and the ancient Greeks are cooperating militarily. For Hanukkah, the IAF Website featured […] pictures of Greek-Israeli cooperation in joint maneuvers of the countries’ air forces.” In January 2012, the Greek and Israeli defense ministers announced the signing of a Defense Cooperation Agreement. Greek-Israeli relations have strengthened significantly since 2010, when Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit Greece.

Vassilios Damiras, a Greek international affairs analyst, asserted: “Greece and Israel are very old nations with extremely rich and complicated history. […] The Jewish Zionist movement that was created and established in the late 19th century by Theodore Herzl had very similar characteristics with the Greek irredentist movement of “Great Idea.” Also, both nations have triumphed as Diaspora in various countries across the globe. Moreover, both ethnic groups have been occupied by the Ottomans. Furthermore, Greeks and Jews controlled and influenced the economic life of the Ottoman Empire. Currently, both countries are Western style representative democracies.”

Unfortunately, until fairly recently, Greek-Israeli relations have not been so warm. After Israel was established as a state, the Greek government perceived Israel in a very negative light and had a pro-Arab foreign policy. According to Damiras, “The […] socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou viewed Israel as an American pawn that suppressed the self-determination of the Palestinian people. Under Papandreou’s rule, the PLO extensively acted on Greek territory.” Papandreou was known to be sympathetic to the PLO and Yasser Arafat. He granted diplomatic recognition to the Palestinian Liberation Organization and agreed to have Greece treat wounded PLO terrorists who fought against Israel in Lebanon.

Indeed, Greek-Israeli diplomatic relations remained stagnant for 45-years. However, in 1995, things started to change. Greece was seeking to enhance her deterrence power against Turkey and wanted to improve her relations with the United States. In 1996, Andreas Papandreou passed away. Greece was further encouraged by Israeli statements asserting that the friendship between Turkey and Israel should not be taken as a hostile action against any other nation. Furthermore, the Middle Eastern Peace Process helped to enhance Israel’s position within Greece.

However, despite these factors, the big change related to the status of Greek-Israeli relations occurred in May 2010 with the Flotilla affair, which significantly altered Turkish-Israeli relations for the worst. Since that time, Israel has sought to improve her relationship with Greece in order to counter balance the loss of Turkey as a strategic partner and has been very successful in this regard.

Both Israel and Greece stand to gain a lot from improved bilateral relations between these two ancient nations. On the Israeli front, Israel seeks to counter-balance the expansion of Turkish influence within the Middle East region and wants to build up strong economic and military relations with Greece. Since Greece is a member of the European Union, strong Greek-Israeli relations can have the potential to have a positive influence for Israel throughout Europe. Meanwhile, Greece also seeks to attract Israeli investment, to buy Israeli-made weapons, and to have the Israelis train the Greek armed forces on symmetrical and asymmetrical warfare tactics.

By Rachel Avraham

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