Defense Officials: Barak Mulled Buying Greek Isle for Israeli Navy Training

IDF decides not to pursue the project, citing doubts about its economic viability.

Two weeks ago Defense Minister Ehud Barak asked the Israel Defense Forces to consider leasing or buying a Greek island to use as a training area for the navy. But the IDF decided not to pursue the project, citing doubts about its economic viability, defense officials say.

According to Barak’s office, “Defense Minister Barak sent the subject for review, and the assessment concluded that there was no need [to lease or purchase a Greek island]. So the matter is void.”

Neither the General Staff’s planning division nor the navy have been enthusiastic about the idea, preferring instead to tighten security cooperation with Greece.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office declined to comment on internal army discussions.

According to Israeli military sources, Barak requested that the matter be assessed in response to a report in The New York Times. The report cited statements by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to French newspaper Le Monde on August 22, on the eve of Samaras’ visit to France for talks on his country’s economic crisis.

Samaras was asked whether his country would consider selling some of its thousands of islands in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas to reduce its staggering budget deficit.

Samaras said some of the islands could be used for economic purposes, as long as this did not threaten Greece’s national or security interests. He said the intention was not to sell islands, but to allow activities there that would raise funds for Greece’s coffers.

Barak’s aides said yesterday the defense minister asked that the Greek-island option be reviewed in response to a request by a minister who visited Greece and returned to Israel with a message for Barak.

The aides said Greek officials had expressed a willingness to lease an island to Israel’s navy for use as a training base.

A source in Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the IDF was represented in this initiative by relatively low-ranking officers, largely in the General Staff’s strategy and planning divisions.

Even though the subject has diplomatic implications, no Foreign Ministry official took part in the deliberations, the source said.