Greece-Israel: From intelligence sharing to defence, security, industry, and technology… for peace and stability

Greece and Israel have a strategic, in-depth relationship, Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Greek journalists on Tuesday after his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem earlier in the day, and will expand it in several sectors.

Besides defense, tourism, green economy, water management and innovation, Mitsotakis said, “I see keen interest in the high-technology sector, for the simple reason that Israel has significant enterprises and we have the engineers, the human resources and access to the European market.”

Bilateral collaboration agreements, he said, included the sector of cybersecurity, which he named as “one of particular emphasis in our collaboration.”

Asked whether they discussed Turkey, the prime minister said that he spoke to Netanyahu of Turkey’s “destabilizing role in the East Mediterranean”. Mitsotakis also referred to the Greek-Italian agreement on maritime zones as an example of agreements that respect international laws.

As noted earlier, Mitsotakis said that “if all goes well, we will be welcoming Israeli tourists to Greece as of August 1.” He considered it possible to extend the tourism period “to October, and even November, to cover some of the lost ground” due to the restrictions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

Pressed as to whether he planned to reshuffle his cabinet, the Greek prime minister said, “You’re using the wrong word. The right one is ‘corrective action’.”

Treaties the two countries signed include the following:

– Joint statement of the Greek and Israeli Tourism Ministries (signed by ministers Harry Theoharis and Asaf Zamir).

– Joint statement on cybersecurity, signed by the Minister of State and Digital Governance Kyriakos Pierrakakis and National Cyber Directorate General Manager Yigal Unna.

– Joint statement of intention in agriculture, signed by Foreign Affairs Ministers Nikos Dendias and Gabi Ashkenazi.

Prime Minister Netanyahu at the joint statements:

“Prime Minister Mitsotakis, welcome to you on behalf of the Israeli government and the people of Israel.

“This is the first G2G perhaps in the world in the corona period or one of them. This reflects two things. It reflects the fact that we have been both quite successful in battling the corona epidemic and it also reflects the tremendous friendship that is building between Israel and Greece. Recently, we celebrated thirty years of upgrading the relationship to full diplomatic relations. This was done by your late father who was also the prime minister of Greece. So there is a closing of a circle and the continuing direction of close ties.

“These ties are very natural between Greece and Israel. First, because there is a kinship, an ancient kinship, between us. Jerusalem and Athens, Athens and Jerusalem are the two foundations of Western civilization. We’re very proud to be the joint bearers of that legacy.

“Second, there was an anomaly that for some reason our two modern democracies at the edge of the Mediterranean, the eastern Mediterranean, did not have these close and natural contacts. So once we established them, everything started to flow and it’s flowing in the right direction. We have common interests. We face common challenges. We have extraordinary common opportunities.

“The challenges in the world and in our region are obvious, everything from firefighting. I always mention a Greek pilot extinguished the fires in Haifa a few years ago. We have complimentary emergency services. We cooperate there and of course this extends to a much larger goal of ensuring security and stability and prosperity in our region. Prosperity can only be ensured if we can ensure security and stability.

“There is widespread defense cooperation, both in training, now in defense projects and various possibilities that we believe we can cooperate in to ensure that stability and that security in our region. This extends to cybersecurity and the joint efforts that we’re making in this regard. It extends to intelligence sharing, to every field that enables our two democracies and our two countries that seek peace and stability to assure peace and stability in our region.

“The opportunities are vast. They include physical resources and the products of the mind. The physical resource, the obvious physical resource, is gas. We have substantial findings of gas offshore. Cyprus has that too. And our most important project which we discussed at length, and we’ll continue to discuss over lunch, is the laying of the EastMed pipeline that will connect the gas fields of Israel and Cyprus through Greece, through Cyprus to Greece, to Europe. This would be the longest underwater pipeline in the world. We’re committed to it. We discussed about how to advance it.

“On the products of the mind, we talked about the vast potential that our cooperation can do to enhance the capacity for innovation in the hi-tech industries in both our countries. Greece has an abundant supply of very talented engineers and scientists and Israel is obviously in that place too. Our hi-tech industries seek to expand their abilities and there is no better place to do it than Greece. That’s already happening in Cyprus. We think with the reforms that you are bringing, Prime Minister, to Greece, and the fact that the markets are taking note, everybody is taking note, well I can assure you that Israel too is taking note and I think the Israeli hi-tech industry is eager to hear your vision of the future this afternoon. So you know that you not only have our blessings but our confidence in the direction in which you are putting Greece economically and in the joint cooperation between us in this area as well. It will serve both our economies and both our peoples.

“Finally, an area that I’m going to mention today, we have other areas obviously of cooperation, like marine agriculture, which I think is a way to feed the world’s population in the future with proteins. We have many, many fields of potential cooperation but the one that I’ll talk about is a simple one – tourism. We had an incredible 1.2 million Israeli tourists in Greece last year. When I first met one of your predecessors, the number was I think around 50,000. So it’s growing. I promised him that it would get up to 400,000. It has tripled since. This is an expression also of the sympathy and the high regard in which Israelis hold Greece.

“Obviously, we’ve had a problem. We were expecting to be able to increase that number easily but corona is getting in our way. We are looking now at the possibility of targeting the opening of tourism, in which case Greece and Cyprus will be the first points of destination, and we would like to set August 1 as a target date. This is contingent on what happens in terms of the numbers of the epidemic. Whether we keep it under control. But if we are satisfied with the numbers then what we would like to do is target August 1 as the date of the opening of the skies.

“We have many, many other things that we are considering but I think the fact that you’re here with your ministers, and with the ministers of the Israeli government, talking about these various areas of cooperation, tells us that Greece and Israel have a tremendous past but an even greater future together. Welcome. Welcome friend.”