Israel, Greece Sign Massive Defense Agreement
Turkish aggressiveness, East Mediterranean gas discoveries behind $1.65 billion landmark deal
Following a successful weekend summit in Cyprus, Israel and Greece on Sunday announced a major new arms deal worth nearly $1.65 billion, in what Jerusalem is calling the largest defense procurement contract ever reached with Athens.
“This cooperation agreement rests on the excellence of Israel’s defense industry and the strong relations between the defense establishments of Greece and Israel,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a statement sent to The Media Line.
Gantz, who also serves as alternate prime minister, noted that the pact was finalized in the trilateral meeting held in Cyprus over the weekend between the Israeli, Greek and Cypriot foreign ministers, and expressed his certainty that the program “will upgrade the capabilities” and bolster the two countries’ partnership “on the defense, economic and political levels.”
The agreement, signed on Friday, includes the establishment and operation of an international training center for the Hellenic Air Force by Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems, scheduled to be completed in 22 years.
Modeled after the Israel Air Force flight academy, the Greek International Flight Training Center will be equipped with 10 M-346 training aircraft produced by the Italian defense company, Leonardo.
The framework also includes upgrade and operating kits to be supplied to Greece’s T-6 aircraft by the Israeli contractor, in addition to training, simulators and logistical support. The deal also outlines potential future “areas of cooperation” between the two nation’s air forces.
This meeting is one of the results of the changes that have taken place in the Middle East over the past year, thanks to a brave and bold decision by leaders
Brig. Gen. (res.) Yair Kulas, head of Israel’s Directorate for International Defense Cooperation, who signed the contract, in a statement called it “the most expansive and one of the most significant defense agreements to date,” adding that the strategic partnership between Israel and Greece was “further cemented” by it.
“The agreement was announced already in January and has now only been formally signed,” according to Dr. Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
She added that the deal “further solidifies the military ties between Israel and Greece,” noting that the close relations between the two countries came into play after Turkey, a former close military ally of Israel turned rival, discontinued mutual military drills in its airspace in 2009.
“Israel-Greece relations significantly evolved due to two main developments – the crisis with Turkey… and the discoveries of natural gas in the East Mediterranean,” Lindenstrauss told The Media Line.
“In addition, growing Turkish assertiveness in the Middle East and the East Mediterranean has pushed Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, the UAE, Israel and France to join hands in various venues to try and contain Turkey,” she said.
On Friday, the top diplomats of Israel, Greece and Cyprus, along with former United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash, who is currently an adviser to Emirati President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, held a diplomatic summit in the Cypriot coastal town of Paphos.
Since the election of Joe Biden as president of the United States, Turkey has tried to repair some of its relations with these different states, that it sees as forming a unified front against it, but till now without much success
The four discussed a range of topics, including joint energy ventures in the eastern Mediterranean, regional security issues and possible collaboration on coronavirus-related matters, such as vaccine distribution.
“This meeting is one of the results of the changes that have taken place in the Middle East over the past year, thanks to a brave and bold decision by leaders,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said after the summit’s conclusion.
“The evolving web of regional cooperation is creating a new narrative, one that is cracking the glass ceiling of the prevailing [one], of our neighborhood as a region of turmoil, conflict and crisis,” added host Nikos Christodoulides, Cyprus’ foreign minister.
Last August, the UAE became the first of four Arab nations to normalize relations with the Jewish state as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords, bringing decades of hostility to an end. Israel has since forged significant economic, travel and tech ties with the Emirates.
“The participation of the UAE in the Paphos meeting is a clear manifestation of the growing links between the Arab Gulf States and Greece and Cyprus, and how the Abraham Accords are enabling also an out-in-the-open cooperation with Israel in such joint forums,” Lindenstrauss said.
There is also one clear loser from the weekend’s events.
“Since the election of Joe Biden as president of the United States, Turkey has tried to repair some of its relations with these different states, that it sees as forming a unified front against it, but till now without much success,” Lindenstrauss said.
“Ankara does not see this relationship favorably and has tried to address the growing cooperation of different actors in the East Mediterranean, both by its involvement in the Libyan civil war and by trying to lure some of them out of these collaborations by repairing relations,” she said.
“While the different actors are testing the waters with Ankara, they are all also still highly suspicious as to whether Turkey is indeed sincere in its efforts to open a new page with them,” Lindenstrauss added.