Global Independent Analytics
Max J. Schindler
Max J. Schindler

Location: Palestine-Israel

Specialization: Politics

Why is Greece’s leftist premier befriending Israel’s right-wing Netanyahu?

It’s another sign that the Syriza government – once a cri de coeur for the international left – has been forced by European creditors to abandon its traditional criticism for Israel.

Greece’s left-wing Syriza coalition – elected in Jan. 2015 to challenge European-enforced austerity— has all but allied with Israel in signing a landmark gas deal last month.

It’s another sign that the Syriza government – once a cri de coeur for the international left – has been forced by European creditors to abandon its traditional criticism for Israel.

Since signing last summer’s debt package, Greece has been ruled from afar by Brussels bureaucrats. It’s an arrangement that renowned leftist economist and editor of Naked Capitalism, Susan Webber, compared to a “vassal state,” akin to a “modern-day Vichy government.”

European creditors have forced Greece to gut welfare spending in order to balance its budget and continue using the Euro currency. It has resulted in more than 30% of the Greek people living below the poverty line.

With leftist Alexis Tsipras as prime minister, he was expected to continue the country’s pro-Palestinian sympathy. Greece’s parliament voted in Dec. 2015 to recognize Palestine. Other ties include the Greek Orthodox presence in Jerusalem and the former socialist prime minister’s close friendship with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But dire economic straits have left Greece searching for any short-term relief, with one Palestinian columnist asking: “Will Greece abandon us”?

It seems like Greece already has. Greece’s Syriza leadership is buddying up on trade and security deals with Israel’s Likud premier – a right-wing government under attack from other EU countries for its settlement activity in the Palestinian territories.

Last summer, Israel signed a defense pact with Greece. It is the second “status of forces abroad” treaty signed by Israel with another country, that being the United States. The SOFA includes large-scale air force and naval “war games” exercises.

Now, the Greek government has negotiated a multibillion-dollar natural gas development with the Jewish state. According to Reuters, the pact doles out more goodies for Israel than for Greece and its other signatory, Cyprus.

Signed by Tsipras, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Cyprus’ Nicos Anastasiades, the agreement will develop the gargantuan Leviathan and Aphrodite gas fields and pipeline gas to Europe starting in 2019 or 2020.

While any gas development is years away and dependent on higher energy prices, Israel benefits immediately on the diplomatic arena and its Cypriot-Greek deal could not have come at a better time.

With England’s David Cameron saying last week that he was “shocked” by Israeli settlement activity in east Jerusalem, and France’s Francois Hollande threatening to recognize Palestine unless Israel attends a peace conference this spring, the Jewish State has come under increasing European criticism.

Yet Israel’s newfound buddies in the EU could undermine the French threat to recognize Palestine. At the least, Cyprus and Greece have already obstructed European efforts to diplomatically remand Israel for building settlements in the West Bank.

Before EU foreign ministers published a hard-hitting statement on Jan. 18 against Israeli settlements, Greece refused to sign on unless the language was softened.

Tsipras also reportedly recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that other countries have held off on until a final status treaty between Israel and the Palestinians.

In terms of the lopsidedness of Israeli-Greek relations, Reuters also adds: As well as attracting more visitors and investment, Cyprus and Greece hope some of Israel’s high-tech success will rub off on them and lift their economies, both bailed out by the EU and IMF. There’s also Israeli know-how in defense, migration, cyber-security and counter-terrorism to draw on.

Israel has already used a Greek-based air defense system for training pilots to thwart flak fire deployed in Syria. But how does Greece benefit from Israeli technology? It is unclear.

While Syriza clamors for allies with trading benefits, Israel may have exploited Greece’s economic desperation, gaining a supporter in the EU for little in return.

In the past, Israel has relied on countries such as the Czech Republic, Britain and Germany to protect its interests. But a new regional alliance is taking shape, one that could frustrate European efforts to make Israeli-Palestinian peace.

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