Greece Approves Historic 20-Year, $1.68B Military Partnership With Israel
Jewish state will provide training and aircraft to Hellenic Air Force in the largest-ever military supply deal between the countries
The Greek government on Tuesday approved a $1.68 billion Israeli Defense Ministry bid to provide equipment and training over two decades to enhance its air defense, in the largest-ever military supply deal between the countries.
“This agreement reflects the excellent and developing relations we have with Greece. It is a long-term partnership that will serve the interests of both Israel and Greece, create hundreds of jobs in both countries, and promote stability in the Mediterranean,” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a statement.
“In the phone call that I received after the agreement was approved, I thanked my friend the Greek minister of defense, Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, and expressed my appreciation for his personal involvement in advancing this project. I also commended the recent strengthening of defense relations between our countries and noted my expectation that these will deepen further,” Gantz also said.
Israel will provide Athens with 10 M-346 twin-engine transonic trainer aircraft and maintenance for the T-6 single-engine turboprop trainer aircraft. In addition, Haifa-based Elbit Systems will be responsible for the creation of and training at a new air defense educational institution for the Hellenic Air Force patterned after the Israeli Air Force Flight Academy.
As part of the agreement, Elbit will provide some of the training, simulators and logistics support, and specific areas of expertise within Israel’s air defense “will be further discussed between the parties,” the Israeli Defense Ministry told The Media Line.
It is a long-term partnership that will serve the interests of both Israel and Greece, create hundreds of jobs in both countries, and promote stability in the Mediterranean
Prof. Zaki Shalom, a senior researcher at the Institute of for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University, says Greece can learn a lot from the Israel Air Force.
“In recent years the Israeli air force has become the main strategic tool for Israel; it has carried out numerous operations against Hamas, Iran and Syria, and not a single Israeli aircraft has been shot down,” he told The Media Line. “Its efficiency in terms of strike capabilities is great, while the risk for human life is minimal. This perfectly suits Israel and Greece.”
George Tzogopoulos, an Athens-based fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy and for the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, says that this deal comes out of ever-expanding ties between the two countries.
“Greece and Israel are continuously elevating their bilateral partnership. Last July, for example, the Greek parliament voted in favor of an agreement on equipment procurement and defense services,” Tzogopoulos told The Media Line. “So, the new security deal is placed in this context.”
Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels and a former EU ambassador to Turkey, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Morocco, says this deal particularly strengthens the Athens-Jerusalem defense partnership.
“This agreement is an important extension of pre-existing military cooperation between Israel and Greece. It shows how much countries around the eastern Mediterranean are concerned with the militarization of Turkey’s foreign policy and with Russia’s increased military activity in the area,” Pierini told The Media Line.
Regarding Turkey specifically, Oded Eran, a senior researcher at INSS and a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan and the EU, says that Greece, Israel and Cyprus are partnered in defense over Istanbul’s behavior in the Mediterranean.
“The three of us have concerns about its recent assertiveness and aggression in the east Mediterranean such as cooperation with Libya and dividing the Mediterranean into two exclusive economic zones and other activities … like Turkey’s support of Hamas in Gaza,” he told The Media Line.
The three countries cooperate on numerous other fronts as well, including working to export natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.
“The three issues – economic, political and security cooperation– are important to Israel,” Eran says.
Shalom says Israel stands to benefit diplomatically and economically within Europe from winning the Greek defense contract.
“The deal enhances Israel’s long-standing position vis-à-vis the EU, namely that disagreements on the peace process and the Palestinian issue should not block cooperation with Israel in various ways,” he says.
Tzogopoulos argues that Europe stands to gain as well from Israel’s deal.
“I would also say that Israel could play, via Greece, an important role to implement NATO’s strategy vis-à-vis the south Mediterranean and beyond,” he says.
This agreement is an important extension of pre-existing military cooperation between Israel and Greece. It shows how much countries around the eastern Mediterranean are concerned with the militarization of Turkey’s foreign policy and with Russia’s increased military activity in the area
Greece’s new defense agreement with Israel comes on the backdrop of Athens bolstering its military capacity through procurements from other countries. Pierini explained that Greece recently bought Rafale fighter jets from France and that the US is contemplating including F-35 stealth fighter jets in its defense partnership with its ally as well.
Periklis Zorzovilis, president of the Institute for Security and Defence Analysis in Athens, says the agreement with Israel is crucial for filling gaps within Greek’s air defense system.
“Because of the fiscal crisis, the Hellenic Air Force was unable to make the necessary investments to renew the flight training system … [it] is still forced to operate outdated trainers which do not enable the smooth transition of the trainees to the modern frontline fighters,” he told The Media Line.
“The agreement establishes and operates a state-of-the-art flight training system that in the long term will significantly improve the quality of the flight training and therefore will positively reflect in the operational capabilities of the Hellenic Air Force,” Zorzovilis said.
When it comes to defense issues within the region, Pierini says that the coming period will be action-filled.
“Overall, the balance of military forces around the eastern Mediterranean is bound to change in 2021 and beyond, given the challenge posed by the deployment of Russian S-400 [anti-aircraft] missile systems at the heart of a major NATO air force: Turkey,” he said.
Shalom says this deal could benefit Israel significantly at a time when its economy is being devastated by the novel coronavirus.
“If successful, the deal might encourage Greece to purchase from Israel other sorts of arms, in particular the Iron Dome” mobile missile defense system.
“At a time when the tension between Turkey and Greece seems to be escalating, the deal is an important factor in the efforts of Greece to enhance its deterrence in the Mediterranean,” Shalom said.