With Turkey threatening naval action against Israel, the Jewish state and Greece have invoked a mutual defense pact they signed without publicity only 12 days ago.
“Greek Defense Minister Panos Beglitis, making the first official visit by a Greek defense minister to Israel, and his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, signed a cooperation memorandum on security in Jerusalem on Sunday during the first day of Beglitis’ three-day trip,” reports the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service.
“I come as my country’s defense minister to state our political will as a government, as well as the majority of the country’s political forces, for the two countries, the two governments, the two peoples, to work together so that we can further develop and deepen our bilateral relations in all sectors of mutual interest and concern,” Beglitis said.
The pact comes as Greece’s longtime rival, Turkey, has made threatening moves toward both countries. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has threatened to send Turkish warships to protect protesters in a flotilla vowing to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile Greece has expressed nervousness over Turkish surveillance flights over the Greek island of Kastelorizo.
Beglitis’ visit comes after the signing last year of a cooperation memorandum last year between Prime Minister George Papandreou and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Last week a Greek Parliament committee approved the purchase from Israel of 400 bomb precision upgrade kits at a cost of $155 million.
Israel’s ambassador to Greece, Arie Mekel, said the Beglitis visit “highlights again the dramatic upgrade of the relations between Greece and Israel for the benefit of both countries.”
Turkey’s saber rattling comes in the wake of a United Nations investigation which found Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip legal — but ruled that Israel used excessive force when boarding the Turkish-flagged ship Mavi Marmara, leading to the deaths of nine Turkish citizens. Erdoğan demanded an apology and, when Israel refused, downgraded Turkish-Israeli diplomatic relations.
The website DEBKAfile, which reports on military issues in the Middle East, said there have been “heavy Turkish sea and air movements in the eastern Mediterranean and that Greece is watching closely Turkish surveillance flights over the Greek island of Kastelorizo escorted by Turkish combat jets. DEBKAfile reports:
Athens fears a Turkish attack on the island, whose population is fewer than 1,000, and an attempt to damage or seize it. Israel suspects that a Turkish attack on the Greek island will be the signal for Turkish military aggression against [Israel’s] oil and gas platforms located in the Mediterranean between Israel and Cyprus. Papandreou said the Turks are capable of surprise attacks on additional Greek islands near the Turkish coast.
[Turkey] would be acting on the pretext that Israel and Cyprus have no right to mark out and exploit the gas and oil zones of the eastern Mediterranean without the consent of Turkish Cyprus (the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus – TRNC). Turkey also backs Lebanon’s complaint that Israel is robbing it of its natural resources. Talks between Lebanon and Cyprus to resolve this issue broke down. Beirut refuses any discussion with Israel.