Israel loses Turkey, gains Greece as strategic partner
Israel has finally moved on from its fractured relationship with Turkey – notwithstanding the impression conveyed by some US and Israeli circles that the damage is not beyond repair. This week, the Israeli Minister of Trade and Labor Minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer made last-ditch bid to save the relationship by initiating a meeting in Zurich with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutolu. It went badly and was hotly debated at the Israeli cabinet meeting Sunday, July 4. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he thought it was worth a try, but most ministers said that given Ankara's harsh hostility, it should never have taken place.
Meanwhile, as Western and Turkish media outlets harped on Israel's loss of its only Muslim ally in the Middle East, Jerusalem was busy acquiring a new strategic partner: Greece, a NATO member like Turkey with plenty of Middle East interests, has shown interest in stepping into Turkey's shoes and investing in stronger military and intelligence ties.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly 450 reported on June 25 from sources in Athens and Jerusalem that this development was not so much planned in Jerusalem as initiated by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who boasts many Jewish and Israeli friends and business contacts, some of whom hold high political and intelligence positions in Israel. He saw Athens' chance to slot into Ankara's place in Jerusalem and transform their present diplomatic, economic, military and intelligence ties into a thriving strategic alliance, that would carry the same advantages to both sides as did Israel's former relations with Turkey.
According to some sources, Papandreou also hopes this alliance will help ease some of his country's financial woes. But most of all, he is looking to Israel for help in speeding the upgrade of his armed forces and helping transform them into the Christian mainstay of NATO in the Balkans and southern Europe – in place of the Muslim Turkish army.
This notion was not the direct outcome of Israel's break with Turkey or the clash aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara on May 31 between Israeli commandos and pro-Palestinian Turkish activists. It has been evolving for some time, first broached in the summer of 2008 when Papandreou allowed 100 Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers to pass through Greek Mediterranean air space for practicing long flights and in-flight fueling.
The distance between Israel and Greece there and back is 1,900 kilometers, identical to the distance between Israel and Iran.
The Greek prime minister went out of his way to be of assistance, making available to the Israeli Air Force the crews and advanced S-300 PMU1interceptor missile batteries Athens purchased from Russia back in 2000. They were allowed to practice bombing sorties against these batteries, in case Moscow decided to sell them to Iran and Syria.
The severe financial crisis besetting Greece this year enhanced the friendly ties between Athens and Jerusalem. While European Union countries spent long months discussing whether to bail Greece out and save it from collapse (eventually granting a €110 billion package), Papandreou turned to Jewish financial titans in Europe and the United States for help to keep the Greek economy afloat.