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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Israel says it will defend Greek gas drilling from Turkey

From JTA:
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in Greece that Israel will defend Greek oil drilling in Cyprus.

Asked at a news briefing Tuesday what Israel's reaction is to a threat by Turkey regarding drilling in Cyprus, Ayalon said, “If anyone tries to challenge these drillings, we will meet those challenges.”

Ayalon, the first foreign official to visit Greece since the formation of its new government, added that he did not think that Turkey would challenge any drilling in the southeast Mediterranean. Turkey said last month it would send naval forces to protect its drilling rights.
I cannot recall any previous time that Israel publicly offered to defend another state from potential third-party aggression. If true, this seems to be a very visible statement of defiance towards Turkey's aggressive rhetoric in recent months.

Turkey started its own drilling off of the coast of Cyprus in September - escorted by naval boats.

The story is not reported anywhere else I can find.

Beyond that, Israel and Greece are strengthening their relationship in other spheres:
Greece's deputy foreign minister, Dimitris Dollis, stressed in his meeting with Ayalon that Israel-Greece relations upgraded in the past year would continue and be strengthened in the near future. Dollis said the ties would not be affected by the change of government in Greece.

“These are not meetings that are held just so we can get together," he said. "They are meetings that will help us to jointly promote the issues we are dealing with and, naturally, provide an institutional framework -- and thus continuity -- for this conference.”

The two officials agreed to convene in Greece members of the Jewish and Greek diasporas from countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, France and Britain. The meeting is planned to take place in the spring in Salonika.

Ayalon and Dollis discussed cooperation among Israel, Greece and Cyprus concerning the subject of natural gas. A trilateral memorandum of understanding on the issue, as well as the management of water resources, has been drafted and is due to be signed soon.

The deputy foreign ministers noted that Greece and Israel have common strategic interests in energy and energy security, and immense prospects for collaboration in that area.

On Wednesday, Ayalon met with the new Greek foreign minister, Stavros Dimas, and defense minister, Dimitris Avramopoulos, to discuss strengthening relations between the two countries.

Next week, the Greek minister for the environment, energy and climate change, Giorgos Papakonstantinou, will visit Israel.
For some very good background on why Greece is a natural ally of Israel, with examples of specific historical and cultural similarities between the Jewish and Greek people, there is a nice article by Diana Muir Appelbaum in Jewish Ideas Daily from July. Also, check out an article in The Economist last week with a surprisingly optimistic quote by Cyprus' president.

I don't know whether Israel's being close to Greece is strategically better from a geopolitical perspective than her former alliance with Turkey, but it sure feels better.

(h/t D)