Mit­so­takis makes Is­rael his first des­ti­na­tion

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY TOM EL­LIS

Greek Prime Min­is­ter Kyr­i­akos Mit­so­takis is trav­el­ing to Is­rael to­day on his first for­eign visit since the coro­n­avirus out­break. The mes­sage is clear, and it is be­ing sent out in sev­eral di­rec­tions. Af­ter deep­en­ing their mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship (which is not aimed at any third coun­try) for a decade, Greece and Is­rael are push­ing ties to a new level. An­a­lysts tend to fo­cus, and rightly so, on the geostrate­gic di­men­sion. The mar­itime bor­ders agree­ment be­tween Turkey and Libya, the ex­ploratory drilling in Cyprus’ ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone and plans for sim­i­lar ac­tiv­i­ties in other parts of the Eastern Mediter­ranean that bor­der on Greek ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters, are all is­sues that will be on the agenda of talks be­tween Mit­so­takis, his Israeli coun­ter­part Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin. But it is not just diplo­matic and de­fense co­op­er­a­tion or plans for the con­struc­tion of the EastMed gas pipe­line. It is also in­vest­ments in a range of sec­tors, most im­por­tantly in­no­va­tion, and tourism, which has gained ad­di­tional sig­nif­i­cance due to the pan­demic. The two coun­tries man­aged to keep in­fec­tions at man­age­able lev­els, have sim­i­lar epi­demi­o­log­i­cal profiles and have worked closely on de­vel­op­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate health pro­to­cols. Is­rael is on the list of 29 coun­tries that fit the “epi­demi­o­log­i­cal pro­file,” mean­ing that Israeli tourists can as of yes­ter­day travel to the air­ports of Athens and Thes­sa­loniki. On top of all that, Greece, Is­rael and Cyprus are mulling the cre­ation of a “safe tourism zone.” This multi-lev­eled co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries is marked by a con­ti­nu­ity and con­sis­tency rarely seen in Greek pol­i­tics. It was launched in 2010 by a cen­ter-left prime min­is­ter, only to be con­tin­ued by his right-wing suc­ces­sor, then be picked up by a left­ist PM and now a cen­ter-right one. Four dif­fer­ent Greek lead­ers with dif­fer­ent ide­o­log­i­cal back­grounds were on the same page in re­la­tion to Is­rael.

Strength­en­ing ties with Is­rael is a na­tional strat­egy for Greece with a clear long-term hori­zon and po­ten­tial. It is in this light that it will be as­sessed by Ne­tanyahu, as well as by his de­fense min­is­ter and po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor, Benny Gantz, and the en­tire Israeli po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. Th­ese promis­ing prospects are re­in­forced by the ex­cel­lent, decades-long co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the Greek and Israeli di­as­po­ras, par­tic­u­larly in the United States. Greeks to­day talk about Is­rael with ad­mi­ra­tion, wel­come Israeli tourists and seek co­op­er­a­tion in de­fense, busi­ness and en­ergy. Heavy in sym­bol­ism, Mit­so­takis’ visit serves as con­fir­ma­tion of this wel­come new re­al­ity.

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