By Tom Ellis
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is traveling to Israel today on his first foreign visit since the coronavirus outbreak. The message is clear, and it is being sent out in several directions. After deepening their mutually beneficial relationship (which is not aimed at any third country) for a decade, Greece and Israel are pushing ties to a new level.
Analysts tend to focus, and rightly so, on the geostrategic dimension. The maritime borders agreement between Turkey and Libya, the exploratory drilling in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone and plans for similar activities in other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean that border on Greek territorial waters, are all issues that will be on the agenda of talks between Mitsotakis, his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.
But it is not just diplomatic and defense cooperation or plans for the construction of the EastMed gas pipeline. It is also investments in a range of sectors, most importantly innovation, and tourism, which has gained additional significance due to the pandemic. The two countries managed to keep infections at manageable levels, have similar epidemiological profiles and have worked closely on developing the appropriate health protocols. Israel is on the list of 29 countries that fit the “epidemiological profile,” meaning that Israeli tourists can as of Monday travel to the airports of Athens and Thessaloniki. On top of all that, Greece, Israel and Cyprus are mulling the creation of a “safe tourism zone.”
This multi-leveled cooperation between the two countries is marked by a continuity and consistency rarely seen in Greek politics. It was launched in 2010 by a center-left prime minister, only to be continued by his right-wing successor, then be picked up by a leftist PM and now a center-right one. Four different Greek leaders with different ideological backgrounds were on the same page in relation to Israel.
Strengthening ties with Israel is a national strategy for Greece with a clear long-term horizon and potential. It is in this light that it will be assessed by Netanyahu, as well as by alternate PM and defense minister, Benny Gantz, and the entire Israeli political system.
These promising prospects are reinforced by the excellent, decades-long cooperation between the Greek and Israeli diasporas, particularly in the United States. Greeks today talk about Israel with admiration, welcome Israeli tourists and seek cooperation in defense, business and energy.
Heavy in symbolism, Mitsotakis’ visit serves as confirmation of this welcome new reality.