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Those incidental romances that drag you down the road of grievous disillusions

Viewed 1546 times 2019-5-13 17:45 |System category:News

Israel’s thaw in relations with Greece and Cyprus falls into wider processes. Far from being a genuine alliance that would have marked a historical turning point, this temporary detour can (and, by all indications, will) serve as the sacrificial “fatted calf” in the future normalization of Israel’s relations with a “prodigal” Turkey


By Nikolaos Diakidis

January 27th, 2019


Euphoria’s vertiginous mist envelops cooperation between Israel, Greece, and Cyprus.

In March 2013, commercial production on Israel’s Tamar offshore natural gas field set off (with Leviathan following suit in 2019); in October, the first Greece-Israel government-to-government council, presided over by the two nations’s heads of government, was convened in Jerusalem; in November of that same year, the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) deployed four F-16 block 52+ fighter jets in the maiden edition of Israel’s Blue Flag aerial drill. In March 2014, Israel’s minister of foreign affairs flied to Athens to confer with his Greek counterpart as well as with Greece’s minister of defense; in December, HAF’s chief of staff traveled to Israel to meet with the commander of the Israeli Air Force (IAF). In May 2015, Israel and Greece celebrated 25 years since the establishment of ambassadorial ties; five months later, HAF deployed five F-16 blk 52+ fighters in the second Blue Flag exercise; in November, Greece’s then newly elected prime minister, A. Tsipras, visited Jerusalem to hold consultations with B. Netanyahu.

In the following three years (starting in January 2016, with the inaugural trialogue summit that took place in Nicosia), exchanges between Greece/Cyprus and Israel climaxed. It was during this time that catchy slogans hit the headlines. Oft-heard assertions about presumed new geopolitical blocs, tripartite Little Ententes, and “great” axes of stability in the eastern Mediterranean echoed stereotypical wishful ahistoricism.

In Greece, right-wing populists, who had invested in anti-Semitism -suggesting that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion should be studied by historians and preachifying that “all major banks belong to the Jews” and it’s the “Jewish lobby” that would seal the fate of Greece’s sovereign debt-, turned into torchbearers of close Israeli-Greek ties. One cannot desist from contemplating on the volatility of human nature, when witnessing a seasoned politician -who had once personified Greece’s watered-down version of J.-M. Le Pen- addressing an open letter to the country’s prime minister with the request that Greece set candidacy in tandem with Israel and Cyprus for the joint organization of the 2030 FIFA World Cup...

Fanfare, cognitive or image-building campaigns, public diplomacy, proactive lobbying, and histrionic ministerial selfies (with captions alleging that Mossad LeAliyah Bet’s Rafiah survivors “were Haifa’s first [sic] inhabitants”) set aside, neither a Brother Jonathan-anointed “coup de foudre” (kindled by a -so to speak- normative democratic[i] spark) nor calculated realpolitik considerations, but a convulsive convergence with limits and narrow (utilitarian) focus is the dire reality that governs Israel’s relationship with Greece and Cyprus.

During the last four to five decades, Greece’s ruling classes (regardless of party affiliations and beyond publicly endorsed ideologies) opted for relinquishing the exercise of national grand strategy; soldered together by material interests and a shared worldview, chose to espouse K. Karamanlis’s platform of “Europeanism” as the state-sanctioned ideological rubric [even KKE’s hardliners acquiesced]; and, got lulled into European Union’s sybaritic arms.

The price paid was Greece’s well-nigh deindustrialization; the implementation of a skewed, unsustainable financial structure; the forsaking of the country’s agricultural and fisheries sectors; the nation’s cultural and educational (with the linguistic re-regulations of 1976 and 1982) degeneration into a previously (i.e., since 1830) unseen state of decay; the ingress of grotesquely nationalistic and racialist groupuscules. Endemic fraud was institutionalized under the regime of the Third Republic and has been perpetuated through a labyrinthine legal and judicial system designed that way specifically to nurture corruption.

To the festering sores that have been dragging on is compounded the obscurantism of a high-handed religious establishment (immersed in conspiracy theories of a staggering range and fossilized in cult-like indoctrination and anti-modernist fixations).

Since June 12th, 1975, Greece’s overly pretentious élites -suckled with Europe’s lotus- renounced the last hints of the country’s ability to manage its domestic affairs and function as a distinct actor on the world’s stage. With national interests eclipsed in Bavaro-frankish mirages, it’s no wonder why Greek policymakers and pundits alike keep -as brigadier (ret.) V. Loumiotis phrased it in a March 25th, 2018 article- “projecting their longings and anticipations onto the volition of partners and foes.” A buck-passing lethargy of mind that hasn’t gone unnoticed by their Israeli interlocutors.

Power is defined as a capacity. A capacity, which -if S. Sur’s interpretation is embraced- is further amplified into: i. the capacity to do; ii. the capacity to make someone do; iii. the capacity to prevent someone from doing; iv. the capacity to refuse to do.

As to the first and second elements, Cyprus’s capabilities to act, coerce, and impose its will are -in blunt machtpolitik terms- close to naught (even if set in juxtaposition to the capabilities of microstates, such as Singapore or Bahrain). So far as the third and fourth points are concerned, Cyprus’s ability to deter or hold out is extremely limited.

The Cypriot National Guard (CNG) is stripped of air and naval components. Lacking warplanes, a blend of fifteen (France- and Russia-imported) SA342L1 (4) and Mi-35P (11) helicopters provide a vestigial contribution to anti-armor warfare. The pinnacle of CNG’s coast guard arm is formed by: i. a single 430-ton offshore patrol vessel carrying a crew complement of thirty and (as of 2018) armed en flûte with a couple of 23 mm cannons; ii. the redundant (launched on April 7th, 1970) yacht of the sultan of Muscat and Oman.[ii]

In the case of Greece, the country’s current capacities are hindered by grave domestic (not in the least of fiscal or monetary origins) and foreign (to wit: the, literally all-consuming, bandwagoning to the E.U.) impediments as well as by the absence of historical self-awareness, realistic foresightfulness, and purposeful long-haul planning.

Greece’s military-industrial segment is hollowed out: the country’s two major ship-building and ship-repair entities (the Hellenic and Elefsis shipyards) have filed for bankruptcy; the Hellenic Vehicle Industry is lingering on a “zombie-like status” with the majority of its employees standing on the sidelines devoid of work assignments; the Hellenic Defense Systems is many a time running out of the minimum cash balances required to pay wages. The last time Greece placed an order for the procurement of new military hardware was thirteen years ago (the Peace Xenia IV program).

Turkey, in the meantime, didn’t idly stand by. The TF-X project and AeroVironment’s commitment to the Turkish market are full of promise. F-35 and F135 production industrial participation opportunities presented for ten Turkish companies are expected to exceed $12 billion. Indigenously developed helicopters (the T129 and T625), tanks (the Altay and Kaplan MT), and ballistic missile systems (the J-600T) have already entered series production or are projected to do so in the immediate future.

A set-up-to-fail stanchion of otiose resistance to change has nothing in common with a pillar of peace and stability in the international politics sense of the terms. Under present circumstances, Greece and Cyprus are neither stable nor resilient allies to Israel or the United States. Enwrapped in prolonged crises: they are fragile; judging from a utilitarian outlook, they are manageable and exploitable; they are docile due to their leadership’s drift towards venality and nepotism and the correlated culture of silence; they are roiling junior partners of curtailed sovereignty.

It was seventy-two hours after the completion of B. Netanyahu’s 2010 trip to Greece, when O. Eran claimed that “the neo-Hellenist option […] embodies much interesting potential that is well worth cultivating.” The truth is that the “neo-Hellenist” (as opposed to what was perceived by Eran as “neo-Ottoman”) option was swept away forty-four years ago; if any grains of “interesting potential” can still be identified, then they are of transactional, operational, or expendable nature and represent opportunities confined to functional considerations that are benefitting the junior partners’s handlers.

Moshe Dayan, having in mind IDF’s relentless offensive against the Golan Heights (on the penultimate day of the Third Arab-Israeli War), had set forth an illustrative metaphor by stating that: “There is a big ocean in which all the superpowers swim; they are the big fish: whales, dolphins. Israel is like a small mouse: it runs quickly out of its hole to grab something and runs quickly back to the hole.”

Five decades later, it is no more pertinent to portray the Jewish state as the creeping rodent of June 1967; an allegory featuring Visconti’s ghepardo or with an ossifrage in excelsis is more apt. The question is whether the bearded vulture (“פרס”), with its acute sense of self-preservation, can right now invest in a long-lasting and factual (beyond pollyannaish rêveries) alliance with Greece and Cyprus. Does Jerusalem enjoy the luxury of pivoting its foreign and defense policies around the Athenian and Nicosian anchorages? The plainspoken answer is: No.

Setting up a front linking the U.S., Greece, Cyprus, Israel, and the Kurdish element that would prepare the ground not simply for Turkey’s containment, but for the latter’s progressive societal erosion, ethnic gerrymandering, political subversion, and territorial dismemberment can be an appealing or dreadful -depending on one’s point of view- idea. Such a coalition (a claw-shaped cluster entailing Turkey’s westward, southward and eastward encirclement, and -by running through the Zagros Mountain range- casting doubt on Iran’s stability and unity as well) hasn’t been forged. Consolidating the five aforementioned actors in a tightly-knit and future-proof alignment is a tantalizing challenge. The materialization of this project (that would have tilted the fulcrum of the regional balance of power) is unlikely in the years ahead due to Greece’s and Cyprus’s brittle state and the Kurds being marred in domestic divisions, discord, and indecisiveness (remnants of deep-rooted nomadic mentalities and of the linguistic pluralism among native speakers of Kurmanji/Ezdiki, Zazaki/Dimli, Sorani, Pehlewani, Kermanshani, Gorani, Mokri, etc.).

Instead, for the time being, it is a rapprochement (a grand Anatolian bargain) of the U.S. and Israel with Turkey that, as the most plausible and down-to-earth scenario, holds sway. White House’s determination to uphold consultations with Turkey’s leadership on thistly, highly divisive issues, such as the delivery of a hundred F-35 fighter jets or Ankara’s controversial $2.5-billion contract with Russia on the purchase of two S-400 air defense systems, and censure Congress over the use of “language that preemptively restricts [the administration’s] ability to work with Turkey” is telling of the deliberations in the making.

The proceedings in progress (initiated in March 2013 with B. Netanyahu’s apology to R.T. Erdoğan over the İHH’s Mavi Marmara skirmish and the June 26th/28th, 2016 normalization agreement) encompass (despite rumored regrets and second thoughts) the potential to pave the uncharted -as to its precise details- way towards a comprehensive agreement that will reposition the U.S.-Israeli-Turkish liaison on new foundations.

The November 1st, 2018 first-ever U.S.-Turkish joint patrol outside Syria’s Manbij, the December 17th training of the USS Donald Cook with two TDK frigates next to Cyprus’s blk 10 and in the wider vicinity of Egypt’s Zohr natural gas field, State Department clearance for a possible export of 140 anti-aircraft missiles to Turkey valued at $3.5 billion, the subsequent (December 19th) announcement of the withdrawal of American forces from Syria, and (on January 4th, 2019) A.W. Mitchell’s letter of resignation denote palpable gestures of détente, easing tensions with Ankara. A. Brunson’s release from custody a mere three months ago wasn’t alien to the foregoing thread of reasoning.

Full-fledged diplomatic ties and military exchanges between Israel, Greece, and Cyprus constitute a ubiquitous reality since the 1990s. The novel elements are: the enhanced quality of the political exchanges; the strictly bilateral or trilateral character of certain diplomatic consultations; and, an operational harmonization (existing, mostly, on paper) when it comes to energy-related issues.

It is worth recounting that B. Netanyahu’s first official trip to Athens occurred eight and a half years ago (on August 16th, 2010). Thirteen years ago (in November 2005), S. Spiliotopoulos and S. Mofaz had pledged to “move forward with a defense pact” and discuss the enactment of “a Greek-Israeli task force [intended] to monitor defense and military-oriented developments in the wider area […] producing common proposals and possible joint initiatives.” The first bilateral large-scale air force maneuver was the Glorious Spartan in May-June 2008; Glorious Spartan has yet to be matched, still -a whole decade afterwards!- carrying the banner for the most expedient manifestation of mutual Greek-Israeli combat readiness. Maritime collaboration spans a quarter of a century stemming from the security agreement that was signed on February 10th, 1992 and the MoU of December 1st, 1994 (renewed on: Oct. 14th, 1999; Nov. 15th, 2005; Sept. 4th, 2011 -with follow-up codification on Jul. 19th, 2015-). Institutionally formalized agricultural (Oct. 7th, 1991), cultural, educational, scientific, economic, industrial, technological (May 18th, 1992), anti-terrorism (Apr. 5th, 1995), and telecommunications (Sept. 24th, 2001) cooperation has been going on for, circa, two to three decades.

It is not farfetched to surmise that an anaemic, visibly lopsided (i.e., in favor of Israeli and American interests), low-risk and low-intensity technocratic experimentation will subsist in the future (on condition that is in terms with the accommodation to come between Israel, the U.S., and Turkey). Besides, it was Greece’s then minister of foreign affairs, who (in June 2018) was rejoicing that “in recent years [i.e., since January 2015], we have taken and created 16 initiatives and cooperation schemes.” Amidst the sixteen schemes of qualified success, can be identified the one that has been initiated with Israel and Cyprus (and, Egypt, and Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates, and Italy, and so on and so forth).

Jerusalem’s and Washington’s recent overtures can be rationalized as fitting into a molecular force structure approach vowing for the larger capacity of parallel (running with the hare and hunting with the hounds) activity with operational and, to a lesser degree, tactical foreign policy objectives being influenced by the combined outcome of the simultaneity of occurrences. Typical examples: i. the American helo base that was covertly established in Cyprus in September 2013; ii. R. Ben-Barak’s idea -that gained momentum on June 22nd, 2018, when it was backed by A. Liberman- to set up an IDF port facility in Cyprus, as a way to launch an alternative -Israeli-managed, howbeit- conduit into the Gaza Strip.

Goodwill to make the “schmilblick” work is not to be played down; still and all, there is a qualitative difference between “amiable” (superficially synergistic and not necessarily symbiotic) relations and a meaningful alliance free from tinsel and trifles. Case in point: Israel’s cooperation with Azerbaijan is flourishing in both the energy and the military-technological realms; even so, Baku is classified as one of Israel’s peripheral partners, not as an ally “in the commonly accepted meaning of the term.” A multifaceted alliance of strategic reverberations between Jerusalem, Athens, and Nicosia is nowhere in sight as yet.

The rudder of the Jewish state isn’t steered towards lost causes that rest on “neo-Hellenist” chimaeras. With the distribution of power budging along the emerging multipolar world order, it is no accident that in Near East’s disrupted regional milieu “alliances are made with the strong […] and […] peace is made with the strong.” Building on impromptu conjunctures is not firm a foundation.

Though by no means cloudless, the achieved (mostly, on paper) operational understanding over the development of the Levantine hydrocarbon fields and the associated transport routes can be weighed as a tradable chip in Jerusalem’s pending quid pro quo with Ankara. The anticipated outcome of such a settlement being the resetting of the Israeli-American-Turkish accommodation on track. Israel’s bargaining position is bolstered by the Greek/Cypriot expiatory goat, which -bearing analogy to tabletop simulations- is neither a core asset nor a true teleological hindrance.

Greece isn’t, to date, a natural gas-producing country. The nation’s fifteen (14+1) oil-rigging wells, located (since 1981) some 4.5 nmi off the northern Aegean Sea island of Thasos, achieve (according to 2018 figures) a meagre output of 4,053 (i.e., 2,825+1,228) barrels of under-saturated sour crude per day.[iii] Production of Greek natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean reservoirs is not in the offing (the delimitation of Greece’s exclusive economic zone is on hold as is the extension of Greece’s territorial sea to twelve -up from the current six- nmi[iv]) and will not be set in motion prior to 2023 at the earliest.

If not, then, as a tabletop simulation and a negotiating card bestowing bargaining leverage on Israel and the U.S. over Ankara, how exactly the January 14th, 2019 discussions on the establishment of an “Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum” (in the absence of Turkish, Lebanese, and Syrian representatives[v], but in the presence of delegations from a semi-landlocked sovereign state and a landlocked self-administered entity -Hashemite Kingdom/Red Sea-port of Aqaba and P.A./not controlling the coastal, Hamas-held, Gaza Governorate, respectively-, which don’t produce and are not expected to produce in the future even a single cubic foot of offshore natural gas -Jordan’s, abandoned in 2014 by the BP, Risha facility is situated in the al-Badia desert plateau, near the al-Karamah/Trebil land border-crossing point with Iraq-) is supposed to be construed?

No matter how much convoluted they may appear, international affairs aren’t as polished as intellectual exercises on ex-post theorization tend to imply; and, in addition to explicit, a varied coefficient of tacit knowing is involved. Much publicized limp partnerships of convenience (with scarce traces of substance) are never ever brought to mutually beneficial conclusions. Small cogs in a large wheel, Greece and Cyprus (alongside Near East’s all-time underdog: the Kurds) will be squeezed dry in case (and, to the extent) power and interest dictate so. For, when it comes down to the wire, the one who survives by virtue of its proper ingenuity (daring to resourcefully engage even where prospects are seemingly grim), by the wings of its own prowess (moving swiftly to adjust to the protean landscape of regional and global politics), and by lurking to adroitly manipulate and/or iugurthaishly capitalize on those who make up its surrounding environment is the lammergeyer.


(Nikolaos Diakidis is an international politics and grand strategy scholar.)


References to Internet Web sites (URLs) were accurate at the time of writing. The author is not responsible for URLs that may have expired or changed since Jan. 27th, 2019.

[i] As has been amply proven throughout history -and, as conceptualized by Thucydides and Demosthenes-, we “Kant” all just get along.

[ii] Even the Mauritius Police Force NCG branch is more heavily armed than its Cypriot equivalent.

[iii] That’s, for the Prinos field, an 89.54% reduction from the peak (“more than 27,000 bopd”) recorded in 1985.

[iv] The “casus belli,” which used to be an elaborate Turkish bluff of the 1970s/1980s/1990s(6/8/95)/2000s (falsely assessed, in those days, as a credible threat by Greece’s heads of cabinet), has nowadays turned out to be the credible threat par excellence (trivialized as a rhetorical bluster by Greece’s present leadership). The most advantageous point in time for the expansion of Greece’s territorial sea boundaries elapsed in May-August 2004; a nifty momentum frivoled away.

[v] The exclusion of Turkish-Cypriot delegates is -stricto sensu- legal, but isn’t realistic (or, more accurately, is realistic exclusively as a bargaining counter designed to exert pressure on both Turkey and the -lacking international recognition- KKTC).

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)

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