Israel's new friend: Why Greece is thwarting Gaza flotilla
Since last year's flotilla debacle killed nine Turkish activists, Israel has cultivated ties with Greece, offering the debt-ridden country generous military aid.
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While the Israeli and Turkish militaries halted joint exercises, Israeli and Greek air forces began training together, giving Israeli pilots added airspace for practice. The tension in Israel-Turkey ties prompted tens of thousands of Israeli tourists who once flocked to Turkish resorts to look for vacation packages in the neighboring Greek isles instead.Skip to next paragraph
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"There’s been intensive investment in ties with Greece since Israeli Turkey ties declined – especially in military ties,’’ says Alon Liel, a former Israeli diplomat who was once posted Turkey.
Mr. Liel said that Israel has offered Greece military supply deals with generous financing terms.
"Greece is a very vulnerable country now, with needs…. They need everything at the moment.’’
Still, Greece's help no substitute for Turkey's heft
The flotilla controversy comes as world attention is fixed on Athens, which last week passed austerity measures to comply with an international debt relief program to avoid defaulting on its sovereign debt.
On Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu thanked European leaders for discouraging the flotilla, and mentioned by name Papandreou – who then asked for help in obtaining tear gas to rein in protesters at home.
In the coming days, Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Balkan states, which Israel has also tried to court in the wake of the falling out with Turkey.
The warmth in ties with Greece is one factor that has spurred recent talks between Israel and Turkey aimed at a reconciliation over the flotilla blow-up last year, analysts say.
Two weeks before Greece’s flotilla clampdown, Turkish government officials also discouraged Turkish activists from participating. Turkish and Israeli negotiators are also reportedly finalizing the details of a United Nations report on the flotilla, which is expected to include words of regret – if not apology – and some sort of compensation for Turkey.
Amid the Arab Spring, both Turkey and Israel have an interest in minimizing tensions in their relationship. With Syria in turmoil next door, Turkey has absorbed more than 12,000 refugees in recent weeks. And while Israel's budding alliance with Greece is paying dividends this week, Athens' weight is no substitute for Ankara's regional heft.
"Turkey was always perceived as a strategic ally, vital ally," said a Western diplomat based in Jerusalem. "Greece certainly cannot replace Turkey. It’s bankrupt, with a smaller population, not as respected in Europe, its military is much smaller. But in the absence of Turkey, having warm relations with Greece is useful, and we are seeing that now.''