The president of Israel visits Greece

Greek-Israeli ties are at a very mature point, to the benefit of both countries. A gradual deepening should have started many decades ago, but it is no good to dwell on the past.

Presidents, prime ministers and governments come and go, but a strategic relationship is built with steady steps from both sides.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog held a visit to Athens on Thursday and be travelling to Nicosia next week. The choice to meet with the Greek and Cypriot leadership before his planned talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara is deliberate.

The son of a former president, Herzog is a very experienced politician. He has held several ministerial posts and was head of the opposition for five years.

I met him in Athens two years ago and we spoke at length. He understands the Greek sensibilities and is in favour of further strengthening bilateral and trilateral relations with Cyprus. Back then, he headed the Jewish Agency, the organisation that coordinates cooperation with the mighty Jewish diaspora.

“Our peoples share many things in common. Both our nations have glorious histories, and both of our Mediterranean nations have strong diaspora communities that maintain close ties with their homelands. We have so much to learn from one another and I’m delighted to see our ties strengthening all the time,” he noted at some point, adding, “There is a lot of love and appreciation between the two nations, and of course tremendous respect for the wonderful history and culture of the Greek people.”

The Greek-Israeli cooperation is also backed by the United States, which considers it – beyond certain isolated moves and unfortunate non-papers that cause damage – key to eastern Mediterranean stability at the strategic level.

As for the possibility that some improvement in the Turkish-Israeli relationship might emerge from the first visit to Ankara by an Israeli president in many years, Athens has stressed since the start that its strategic partnership with Jerusalem is not aimed against any third country.

After all, if Turkey stops making threats and chooses the path of well-intentioned dialogue and cooperation, Athens will be first to support Ankara’s closest possible relationship with the European Union and its equal participation in regional schemes of cooperation.

But this is obviously not possible with Turkey’s threat of war against Greece in force, and daily statements from Ankara challenging the sovereignty of numerous Greek islands.

Getting back to president of Israel’s visit, Athens views it as yet another step toward deepening this special relationship between the two mature democracies in the region and pillars of Western civilisation, and it is eager to continue working with its strategic partner Israel to enhance regional stability.

(A version of this article was originally published by the Kathimerini newspaper and is reproduced by permission.)

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