Israel, Greece and the United States are currently conducting a joint military exercise in the Mediterranean Sea, code named “Noble Dina.”
The maneuvers are a continuation of the drills that Israel and the U.S. previously conducted every year with Turkey, called ” Reliant Mermaid.”
However, following rising tension between Israel and Turkey since 2009, Turkish army ended its participation.
Some analysts view the decision to include Greece instead of Turkey as an attempt by Israel to crown Athens as its main regional strategic partner.
“All together, it seems to me that any strategic and military cooperation between Israel and other countries – especially in the eastern Mediterranean – is welcome. And surely with the U.S., it seems to me that this serves Israeli strategic interests very well, ” Prof. Yair Evron, of Tel Aviv University, told Xinhua on Monday.
He cautioned, however, that “As far as whether Greece could replace Turkey, here I’m more reserved.”
In May 2010, Israeli naval commandos attempting to take over the lead craft in a Gaza-bound six-ship flotilla killed eight Turkish nationals. The Mavi Marmara and other vessels were aiming to break Israel’s maritime blockade on Gaza, enforced to stop weapons smuggling to the coastal enclave.
Immediately afterward, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel, and, after Israel refused to apologize and take responsibility for events on the ship, Ankara in September 2011 expelled Israel’s ambassador, and cut the level of its representation in Israel.
The decision put an end to not only joint Israeli-Turkish military drills, but also to Israeli military exports to Turkey.
“The good relationship and level of strategic cooperation that Israel once had with Turkey – I’m doubtful whether one can re- establish it,” Evron said.
While Greece offers some of the same advantages as Turkey in terms of similar terrain, its need for military hardware isn’t on the same level as Turkey, which has an ongoing confrontation with Kurdish rebels in eastern Turkey.
Greece is currently going through a severe economic crisis, and, despite multiple aid packages from the European Union, may still be first country to leave the Euro zone due to a massive public debt.
The dire economic situation, together with increased Turkish influence in both the Middle East and the Balkans, is one factor behind the improvement of relations with Israel, said Dr. Angel Chorapachyev, of the University of Haifa.
“Greece is trying to get back into the scene and it has a common rival with Israel in Turkey, so for the last year we have seen an improvement in the connections between Israel and Greece, in economic and military fields,” Chorapachyev said.
He pointed out that the cooperation is “something that would have been very strange to see a decade or two ago, because Greece was traditionally very pro-Arab-oriented – especially after the socialist party came to power in the 1980s.”
The energy ministers of Israel, Greece and Cyprus recently meet to discuss the possibility of exporting undersea natural gas found off Israel’s coast via Cyprus and Greece, and co-produce electricity which would be sent onwards to Europe.
Protecting Israeli gas infrastructure is one of the scenarios being drilled during the current exercise.
Several Israeli companies are also considering buying some Greek state assets that are being sold off as part of the efforts to reduce the country’s massive debt.
Chorapachyev said that Greece is also trying to take advantage of changing relations between Turkey and the U.S..
He argued that Turkey is trying to take a more independent role from the U.S., and that Ankara is now striving to become a regional power broker by developing stronger ties with Iran.