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Israel and Greece also share a common interest in combating Islamist terror. Israeli security consultants helped the Greek security services prepare for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Furthermore, Israel has informed the Greeks of the presence of Hezbollah and Iranian operatives on Greek soil.
In economic terms Israel’s trade with Greece is relatively small compared to that with Turkey, but it is growing, In 2005 Israel’s exports to Greece amounted to $202M, in 2006 it grew to $245M, excluding services. Conversely, Israel provides the largest market for Greece’s exports in the Middle East. And with the Greek military budget being one of the highest in Europe at 3% of the GDP, the potential for Israeli arms sales to Greece is significant. Tourism from Israel to Greece has increased considerably as Turkey has become less hospitable to Israelis. Israeli tourists no longer limit their vacations to the Greek islands, but make its Greek cities like Athens and Salonika part of their tours. Approximately 250,000 Israeli tourists visited Greece in 2010, a 200% increase over the previous year.
In the first visit to Israel on July 23, 2010 by a Greek prime minister in decades, Prime Minister George Papandreou made a point of saying that “We too say never again!,” when referring to the Holocaust in which thousands of Greek Jews were murdered. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s spokesman declared that “Greece and Israel will undergo a major upgrade of relations.” In his reciprocal visit to Greece the following month PM Benjamin Netanyahu said “We need a peaceful region—a peaceful Middle East region…we also hope that this trip will be a first step to keep improving bilateral relations with Greece.” The host, PM Papandreou then stated that, “Good relations between Greece and Israel should be complementary and not competitive with relations between Turkey and Israel.”
During last month’s visit to Greece by Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, his Greek counterpart Dimitris Dollis stated that Israel-Greece relations upgraded in 2010 would continue and strengthen in the near future. Dollis stressed that the ties between Greece and Israel would not be affected by change of governments in Greece. For his part, Ayalon stated that “Israel will defend Greek oil drilling in Cyprus” and added, “If anyone (Turkey or Hezbollah, JP) tries to challenge these drillings, we will meet those challenges.” It was agreed between the two deputy Foreign Ministers that Greece and Israel have common strategic interests in energy and energy security.
Considering the fact that Greece established diplomatic relations with Israel as late as 1992, the bilateral relations between these two Mediterranean nations has now matured enough to go a step further. Perhaps economic interests and strategic considerations will supersede the idiomatic phrase “One’s enemy’s enemy is one’s friend.” Their common Judeo-Christian history and the threat of Islam have opened the door for a genuine alliance between Greece and Israel. Their combined strength could change the region and history.
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