Greece-Israel-Cyprus: A Model for Cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean

Greece“Realism” is among the most fundamental of International Relations paradigms. I will not further analyze theory, as the aim of this article is to assess certain policy options. Nevertheless, I referred to political realism as it considers a set of elements that consist of power, which is further divided into economic and military power, the alliances, the natural resources at a state’s disposal, technological innovation, the population related qualitative and quantitative characteristics, the land and the overall geographical location.

Considering the Greek – Israeli, and even the Cypriot – Israeli relationship reveals some interesting policy options, which could alleviate the level of cooperation. That is because the two countries have certain assets that are in scarcity to the other. However, they could serve as elements of mutual benefits.

Despite its severe financial condition, Greece is involved with important Western institutions including the European Union, NATO and the Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Moreover, Greece is a strong military power with a sophisticated air force and navy.

Israel is a formidable military power and coupled with its Western allies, can act as a calculable deterrent force. Although it is not a member of the EU or NATO, it still shares common interests and ideas.

Greece’s economy has suffered because of the Euro-zone crisis and some part of the country’s productive infrastructure has seen a sharp decrease. However this does not mean that Greece lacks the capacity to boost or restart it in the extreme scenario of a default.

Israel is characterized by the scarcity of land and in spite of its technological innovations in engineering, farming, water management etc., still lacks the necessary lands to fully cover its needs. Therefore it relies on large amounts of imports of food, minerals, machinery, industrial equipment, and chemical products.

The dearth of sufficient land is not only reflected in the economic output but also to the overall defense capacity in terms of “strategic depth.” Offensive or defensive doctrines or the application of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) versus the use of “traditional” tactics, just to mention two examples, have been affected by the lack of strategic depth. Israel cannot afford to lose ground and it feels that its strategic infrastructure is within reach of offensive systems.

The recent Greek-Israeli and Cypriot-Israeli partnerships have shown that the three countries have the opportunity to cooperate and act as a regional subsystem of stability in a volatile region.

Israel’s most important security dilemma, arising from the scarcity of strategic depth, can be addressed through an alliance of this kind. So far Greece and Israel have shared military training facilities and with Nicosia, cooperation has flourished through political and economic support, especially in the field of offshore drilling.

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Of course the three countries should not and would not restrict their collaboration in the military field. It is true that Israel does not have the capacity to build large defense platforms such as large ships, while Greece does. But there are many more things to work on, not only in the defense or energy sectors.

The political relationship particularly between the Diasporas of Greece, Cyprus and Israel or in foreign trade will enhance relations. Most significantly these ties could be deepened only if they become a model of cooperation leading to political stability, not to power politics. What is also missing in the Eastern Mediterranean is the existence of a clear political model that would be followed by most of the region’s states, which would also be flexible enough to be adapted to each country’s tradition.

Turkey has recently tried to pursue a more active role and although its model looks good on paper, it needs good public relations to succeed.

Ankara’s Turko-centric model has a very hard time balancing between the various bilateral “national interests” as they are contradicting in their own nature. For instance, the conflicting interests between Turkey and Iran and Turkey and the US.

It is not flexible as it is not an overt and honest proposal. Most importantly, it needs to adopt an anti-Israel stance to gain political legitimization. This is unsustainable and counterproductive. A model of “Islamic Democracy” should by definition include collaboration between the neighboring states otherwise it only promotes the hegemonic ruling of one country.

The alliance between Greece, Cyprus and Israel, and with other countries, could serve as a model of friendship. For thousands of years, Greece and Cyprus always had strong relations with the Arab world. Greece has chosen to promote its relations with Israel, despite its friendly ties. It was a major step in its foreign policy that required a lot of tolerance because Greece immediately put itself in the middle of the two sides’ tense relations.

The trilateral relationship is by no means an axis or simply a rearrangement in power politics. The Greek governments have endorsed for decades the Democratic and European principles, which lead to cooperation. Of course there are problems and maybe the “EU method” has never been the preferred way of solving conflicts. But there is always someone who can mediate and act as a bridge. Greece, Cyprus and Israel can really serve as such.

(Stelios Kanavakis earned a MA in War Studies from King’s College, London. He currently works as a foreign policy and defense analyst in Greece and abroad)