Nothing Is 'All-inclusive' Here

Netanyahu would be wise not to allow his new Greek romance to go to his head, and should leave a door open for Turkey.

Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan
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Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan

The beautiful, new friendship between Greece and Israel was born not in all-you-can-eat-buffet restaurants, like our lost alliance with Turkey, but rather in the shock wave that radiated out of Afghanistan all the way to the gates of the White House. What made this beginning possible was not the fondness of the Israelis for the bouzouki clubs of Athens, but rather the departure from the Oval Office of George Bush, so despised by the Greeks, and the entry of Barack Obama.

But even this explanation, which is accepted by most political commentators in Greece (and even in circles close to Prime Minister George Papandreou ) would be incomplete without a glance at the movement of the large pieces on the global chessboard and in the Mediterranean basin. Turkey, with its economic and strategic interests, is just one player on the board, but despite efforts by some in Israel to minimize its importance, it is not a minor one.

The Greeks fear Turkey, yearn for it and are ready to hate it at any given moment. They are threatened and insulted primarily by the "strategic depth" doctrine that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu presents as an aspiration to "Neo-Ottomanism": that is, Turkey's transformation into a major player on the world's stages.

Thus it is not only Greek paranoia - the twin of Israeli panic - and the primeval fear of Islam that are pushing Greece and Israel into each other's arms. Turkey's blunt foreign-policy choice and the changing map of control over regional energy resources have also contributed to it. Now, with Israel openly brawling with Ankara and Obama turning a cold shoulder to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the way is clear for Greece to call out "Here I am" to Israel - and to the Balkans, to Europe and in general.

But Papandreou is a clever statesman, with a solid diplomatic background. He knows it would be a mistake to push Turkey roughly into a corner, and truth be told he doesn't want to mess with them. On the contrary: He was once strongly in favor of Turkey's admission to the European Union, and the first thing he did after becoming prime minister earlier this year was to visit Ankara. Papandreou wants new alliances, but likes to develop them slowly and carefully.

His growing closeness with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be going a little too fast for his taste, but nonetheless he can't seem to hide the pleasure he takes in it. Playing it safe, Papandreou called every Arab leader in the region, starting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, to inform them of Netanyahu's upcoming visit and explain that he intended to press Israel to move forward with the peace negotiations. The Greeks, however, recognize the shared interests and understand that Netanyahu's trip to the island of Poros, in the Saronic Gulf, and his meeting with the head of the Jewish community are just the wrapping for a meaningful, essential relationship between Israel and Greece within the shifting international context.

It will start with talk about tourist ties - ("all-inclusive" it won't be, the Greek government isn't thrilled about subsidizing tourist businesses subsidies ) - continue on to closer economic ties and culminate, as some commentators predicted long ago, in a new strategic alliance that will include overflight rights for the Israel Air Force.

Facilitating all of this is the fact that Netanyahu and Papandreou come from such similar backgrounds. They matured at the same prestigious American universities, where they made similar connections (as did opposition leader Antonis Samaras, who met with Netanyahu on Monday ). Papandreou may be the head of the Greek Socialist party, and Netanyahu the leader of the Israeli right, but both have liberal-democratic tendencies rooted in economic policy. Papandreou, who is trying to lead a major and painful economic reform without undermining his popularity, will be happy to receive help from Netanyahu, who will be happy to advise him.

Thus swings the political pendulum in the Mediterranean basin: 'Made in America, Yassou and Ahlan"; "Flirt in the Crescent's Shadow," ran the headline in the Greek daily Ta Nea, hinting at the betraying and betrayed Turkish flag. The hint was to both sides, but it is significant mainly to Netanyahu: In spite of everything he would be wise not to allow this new romance to go to his head, and should leave a door open for Turkey. And if not a door, then at least a small window.



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