by Efraim Inbar
In recent years, Cyprus, Greece and Israel have significantly intensified their political, energy and military relations. The political leadership of the countries meet regularly and they coordinate their energy policies, particularly on the gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. In addition, they founded the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), including Egypt, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (PA). This became a regional cooperation platform for developing the natural gas fields in the Mediterranean.
The US exit from the region and a weakened Russia confer greater freedom of action to Turkey and other regional powers
Moreover, the three states conduct various military exercises honing their capabilities. Additional interactions in other areas cement this alignment, which is of political and strategic consequence. For example, it contributed to Turkey’s policy change toward the Abraham Accords and Israel.
A more coherent common foreign policy agenda is needed to enhance the strategic significance of the Athens-Jerusalem-Nicosia partnership. The first item on the agenda is better coordination in Washington to sensitize the United States to regional realities, as it does not seem to have a coherent policy toward this region.
Washington is obsessed with human rights in its approach to Egypt, the most important Arab state. In Libya, it tilts at Islamist elements. The apex of strategic shortsightedness was the cancellation of its support for the EastMed pipeline (for supposed environmental reasons) that was planned to bring energy to Europe a few weeks before the Ukraine war, precipitating an energy crisis.
This administration needs better focus when approaching the region. As the US pivots its attention to China for understandable reasons, the Eastern Mediterranean region will get even less American attention. However, the rising energy prices might slow the American departure from the larger Middle East.
This period should be capitalized on to secure a better American understanding of the value of the trilateral alignment. President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to Israel is an opportunity to enhance the American understanding of the utility of the Eastern Mediterranean alignment.
The second item on the common agenda regards Egypt, a member of the EMGF and a historical rival of Turkey. In addition, Greece and Cyprus have promoted military relations with Egypt, in the face of security threats and to help defend their interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Yet Egypt is reluctant to join the Hellenic alignment with Israel, despite the significant improvement in Cairo-Jerusalem relations. Efforts toward integrating Egypt into the configuration are needed. Egyptian participation in the grouping could be highly beneficial to the four states.
The third common issue is Turkey, a revisionist power animated by Neo-Ottoman and Islamist impulses. It moderated its behavior for various reasons, but as long as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is its leader, the potential for mischief is great.
Yet the US exit from the region and a weakened Russia confer greater freedom of action to Turkey and other regional powers. The Ukraine war underscores the strategic importance of Turkey’s location. Moreover, the US will continue to hesitate in pressuring Ankara, in order to avoid pushing Turkey into Russian hands. These developments could encourage Turkish adventurism. Containing Turkey will continue to be a significant challenge.
A fourth common issue relates to the new West Asia Quad grouping of the United States, India, Israel and the United Arab Emirates. New Delhi is attempting to build an alternative to the Chinese Belt and Road enterprise by linking India to the Mediterranean via the UAE and Israel.
Such an endeavor will endear its participants to Washington. Israel, the UAE and the Hellenic nations should promote this alternative. Furthermore, establishing this quad will strengthen the Abraham Accords, which are young and fragile. People in the Gulf have not yet internalized the inherent advantages of recognizing Israel, the Jewish state. Moreover, the Abraham Accords are contingent upon Israel making good on the expectation that it will end the Iranian threat.
Ukraine reminded us that war is still a policy option even in Europe. The Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East are conflict-ridden and more bellicose regions than Europe.
Alas, international law and guarantees have proved ineffective in preventing predatory states from aggression. This is no surprise for those that realize the perennial chaotic nature of the international system where there is no international policeman to maintain law and order.
This means that states belonging to the Athens-Jerusalem-Nicosia alignment must prepare for war without illusions. While intra-alignment relations should be strengthened, it is worth remembering that this is not an alliance. Israel should be the model and its self-reliance doctrine must be emulated. Each state must invest in defense and enhance military capabilities and deterrence. Weakness always invites aggression.
Implementing this agenda is a national security imperative for the alignment and the US should actively promote it. Moreover, it could provide a modicum of stability in a bad neighborhood. Athens and Jerusalem, the founding blocks of Western civilization, should show the way for the rest of the world.
Efraim Inbar is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS). A version of this article – which was first published in the Jerusalem Post – was delivered by the writer at a meeting of the Israel-Hellenic Forum that was convened in Athens by the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and Panteion University’s Institute of International Relations in Athens on June 27-28.