Netanyahu Heads to Greece for Tristate Summit With Greek, Cypriot Leaders

Meeting comes amid Cyprus training drill for Israeli commandos; five Israeli ministers also set to visit Thessaloniki to sign agreements

Netanyahu, wife and El Al pilots - Nechama Spiegel-Novack on the right - heading for Greece
Amos Ben Gershom, GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to Thessaloniki on Wednesday for his third tristate summit with the leaders of Greece and Cyprus in the past 18 months.

As well as jointly meeting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on Thursday, Netanyahu will also meet the two leaders separately.

The visit comes as Israeli commandos will be undergoing training in Cyprus this week, the biggest joint military exercise ever undertaken between the two countries in the island nation. According to Cypriot media sources, the training will involve 400 Israeli soldiers. Cyprus and Israel have held joint exercises before, mainly in the air and sea. This time ground forces are also involved. 

The prime minister is expected to be accompanied by five Israeli ministers on the two-day visit: Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen; Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz; Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin; Tourism Minister Yariv Levin; and Science, Space and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis.

The ministers are expected to meet with their Greek and Cypriot counterparts and sign cooperation agreements.

Thursday’s trilateral meeting follows last December's meeting in Jerusalem, when the three countries agreed to form a joint emergency and rescue force to deal with natural disasters.

Wednesday’s visit has also made news because of the journey itself: The El Al plane taking Netanyahu and his ministers to Greece will be piloted by an ultra-Orthodox woman – a first for an official state flight.

Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported Tuesday that Nechama Spiegel-Novack will pilot the plane. The mother of four began her pilot training at age 20 in the United States, and was accepted on El Al’s pilot training program in 2015.

The choice of Thessaloniki as host city is symbolic. It was once home to a vibrant Jewish community, which was decimated when over 95 percent of the 60,000-strong community perished during the Holocaust. Although Greece’s second largest city is now home to fewer than 1,000 Jews, it has made efforts to restore its Jewish history in recent years, including at the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki.

Palestinian groups issued a call this week for Greek social justice activists to protest Thursday’s meeting between Netanyahu and Tsipras.

A street in what used to be the Jewish quarter in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Wikimedia Commons