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Israel reports a sharp improvement in relations with Greece

12 October 2012 / 20:10:31  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

Over the past two years, developments have occurred in the Middle East, which are expected to lead to major changes in the region. At the beginning of last year, the Arab Spring broke out, Israel and Cyprus discovered rich deposits of natural gas, and those governing in Iran were convinced of their nuclear ambitions more than ever.

Instability and tension in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East and the role of Greece and Cyprus in the situation were discussed at a forum organized by the Hellenic Centre for European and International Analysis.

One of the key participants was the Ambassador of Israel to Greece Ari Mekel.

"We are in search of new friends. Over the past two years, we have reported a significant improvement in our cooperation with Greece and Cyprus. It has been developing very rapidly especially over the last few months, since the start of the term of the new government in Athens. It should be noted how many bilateral visits at ministerial level were held over the past few months. I can assure you that there will be at least another 2-3 such visits by the end of the year. We want to expand this collaboration with Greece and Cyprus through the participation of other countries, such as Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia."

Israel's Ambassador said that the turnaround in his country’s relations with Greece have already brought direct results. "We do not yet avail the official data, but those known so far show that approximately half a million Israeli citizens visited Greece to spend their vacation in the country. People, who previously went on holiday to Turkey, now prefer Greece."

Ari Mekel pointed out the change in the Greek public opinion of his country. "The media have changed their position and now, the Greeks have a good opinion of Israel. They already see our country as a partner and this is very important for us."

In his analysis of the situation in the wider region, the Ambassador said that he hoped that the Arab Spring would end with the implementation of real democratic reforms in Arab countries.

He did not hide his concern that "some things that go along with the Arab Spring bring great dangers. One of them is radical Islam. But the main problem is the role of Iran in nuclear power. The problem with their nuclear ambitions is not just a problem of Israel, but of the entire world. This country is led by fanatical ayatollahs. Who could trust them that they will not use nuclear energy for military purposes?"

According to the Ambassador, the Palestinian issue is about to be solved and Israel supports this. "But it is not the main issue of the Middle East. Ethnic conflicts are more serious as well as the unequal distribution of wealth, the lack of democracy." Concerning the solution of the Palestinian issue, he said, "We are positive although the Palestinian country is split between Mahmud Abbas and Hamas. We are ready to negotiate with them about everything, even about Jerusalem and the settlers."

Finally, Ambassador Mekel said that the natural gas field found by Israel would create a new basis for the development of economic relations through the installation of gas liquefying stations and other projects.

Ambassador George Ayfandis presented the positions of the main opposition party SYRIZA as a diplomatic adviser to party leader Alexis Tsipras.

He said that the events in Syria were extremely dangerous, especially if forces more dangerous than Bashar al-Assad broke his regime. In his opinion, an eventual fragmentation of Syria will be negative mainly for Israel. "A possible intervention of Israel will be important for the developments. But while the Palestinian issue remains unresolved, tensions will not diminish."

The diplomat said that SYRIZA have reservations about the military cooperation between Greece and Israel. "First, it is because we do not know them. And second, it is because we expose ourselves to danger. Any military cooperation between Greece, Cyprus and Israel will put us within the sight of Iran. Moreover, Greece is not currently prepared to deal with such a threat."

Ayfandis expressed the concern of the left about the Greek foreign policy. "We are concerned about the tactics that lead to secret talks. Up until now we were "buying" political time from Turkey. The results were not positive. And now, we have come to the supreme council for the Greek-Turkish cooperation. Ultimately, who benefits from it? Is the government in Athens, which is assumed to be ridiculed by every Thomsen, able to defend the national interests?" he said, stressing that the results of the "negotiations behind closed doors" will not be binding for a future government of SYRIZA.

According to SYRIZA, the last hope for the development of Greece is the utilization of energy sources. "Our goal should be the protection of these resources in order to be able to emerge from the current situation."
The businessman and owner of one of the leading construction companies in Greece "Mihaniki," Prodromos Emfiedzogolu, was among the participants. He focused his presentation on historical data for the Kurds, who did put one region under their control after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

The businessman said that the Arab Spring could lead to major changes within the Arab countries with the establishment of an independent Kurdish state. "It was presented two years ago with a map published in the journal of the American army. The author of the article stated that the current borders in the Middle East were drawn from the West, according to its interests and this could not last forever." The surprise came at the end of his speech, when he announced that next year he would travel to Abil city in northern Iraq to establish a branch of "Mihaniki" in Kurdistan.

Tags: PoliticsInternational relationsIsraelCyprusCollaborationArab springIran
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