Netanyahu, Papandreou
PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. Photo by Avi Ohayon
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sometimes seems almost too arrogant and self assured for his own good. However, unlike in most instances, this weekend he actually has justification for his haughtiness.

Netanyahu’s personal investment in his relationship over the past year-and-a-half with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in which he increased diplomatic ties with the floundering European nation seems to have put the final nail in the Gaza flotilla’s coffin.

In his speech Thursday night for the Israeli Air Force Flight School graduation ceremony, Netanyahu discussed diplomatic efforts being made to prevent the Gaza flotilla from setting sail. The only leader that Netanyahu mentioned by name in his address was Greece’s George Papandreou.

Just a day earlier, the prime minister spoke with his Greek counterpart, imploring him to issue an order preventing ships from disembarking from Greece toward the Gaza Strip. Unlike in the past, Papandreou responded positively, and a top Israeli official involved in the talks between the Greek prime minister and Netanyahu said that Israel knew as early as Thursday afternoon that Greece was planning to block ships from leaving its ports toward the strip.

The romance between Netanyahu and Papandreou began in February of 2010, when the two met coincidentally at the “Pushkin” restaurant in Moscow. Netanyahu took advantage of their chance encounter to speak with the Greek prime minister about Turkish extremism against Israel and the two quickly became friends.

The Israeli and Greek leaders have spoken to each other at least once a week ever since they met in Moscow.

The Turkish flotilla to Gaza in May of 2010 led to serious concern among the intelligence and military ranks in Greece, who began pressuring the government to strengthen diplomatic ties with Israel. Papandreou did not need much convincing.

In July of 2010 he arrived in Jerusalem, the first official visit of a Greek prime minister to Israel in 30 years. A few weeks later Netanyahu travelled to Athens, spending a whole day with Papandreou and other officials on a nearby island.

Israeli diplomats can attest that the budding friendship between the two countries over the course of the past year-and-a-half has been nothing short of dramatic. Intelligence communication has increased, the IAF has conducted a number of joint exercises with Greece’s air force and Netanyahu has requested Papandreou’s assistance in passing on several messages to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Many of Netanyahu and Papandreou’s talks in the past few months have revolved around the severe financial crisis Greece is currently suffering. Netanyahu recently decided to come to the aid of his newfound friend in a meeting of foreign ministers and European leaders, imploring them to provide Greece with financial aid.

“Netanyahu has become Greece’s lobbyist to the European Union,” an Israeli diplomat said.

In recent weeks, as efforts to stop the impending pro-Palestinian flotilla to Gaza came to a head, Netanyahu reaped the benefits of his investment in Israel-Greece ties and his gamble on the European country paid off.

He was able to create a viable alternative to relations with Turkey in several regards, showing Erdogan that Israel will not hesitate to become close to its greatest enemy in the West.

And when the moment of truth came, Greece followed through and ordered all Gaza-bound departures be blocked from leaving its ports. Greece’s decision, along with the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation's (IHH) announcement that it would not be sending the Mavi Marmara and the president of Cypress’s statement forbidding ships from sailing to Gaza sealed the fate of the flotilla almost entirely.

“The flotilla organizers did not take into account that Greece of July 2011 is not the Greece of May 2010,” said a top Israeli official that worked intensively in the past few months to prevent the Gaza flotilla mission from taking place.

“Today there is a different Greece when it comes to Israel,” he added. “The organizers of the flotilla did not understand this, and now they are paying the price.”