Israel, Greece & the Turkish Challenge: Acute testing lies ahead

Israel is unable to get directly involved in eastern Mediterranean hostilities, should they erupt. But it can and should cooperate closely with Greece


The government-to-government meeting in Israel in which Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and some his key ministers joined their Israeli counterparts (June 16, 2020), was of strategic importance. Beyond questions of COVID-19 and tourism which dominated media coverage, the talks focused on responding to Turkish aggression in the eastern Mediterranean.

Ever since his ruling party was humiliated in municipal elections in the summer of 2019 (particularly in Istanbul), Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been busy promoting a nationalist-Islamist agenda. Among other targets, Erdogan aims at Israel, as indicated by many government statements which link the “Islamization” of the Aghia Sophia in Istanbul to the future “liberation” of al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.

At the geo-strategic (and economic) level, the struggle is now focused upon the delineation of the Exclusive Economic Zone map in the eastern Mediterranean – an issue with significant consequences for Israel. This in turn is closely associated with the Turkish military intervention in Libya (and the possible Egyptian counter-intervention), as well as with Turkish prospecting for energy in Greek EEZ waters off Crete, and naval provocations near Rhodes.

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For obvious reasons – above all, due to the dangers posed by Iran, and the resulting tensions in the north – Israel is reluctant to be an active partner in preparing possible war scenarios alongside Greece (or Egypt). It can and should, however, help by broadening the scope of intelligence cooperation; by working together on military acquisition projects, such as the joint development of naval assets; and in particular, by focusing attention on the “Archimedean point” in Washington. It will be the US position – Administration and Congress – which will to a large extent influence Erdogan’s level of strategic risk-taking and the scope of his “neo-Ottoman” ambitions.

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