ATHENS (Dec. 11)
Israel established its first full-fledged diplomatic mission in Greece Tuesday, headed by Moshe Gilboa, a senior Foreign Ministry official from Jerusalem with the rank of Ambassador.
Gilboa, 56, presented his credentials to Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias at a private meeting which lasted 30 minutes instead of the 10 minutes assigned by protocol to such formalities.
Gilboa seemed more than pleased when he emerged. While he declined to say anything about his talk with Papoulias, he expressed cautious optimism over the warming of relations between the two countries.
Greece has never extended de jure recognition to Israel. For that reason, the Israeli envoy presented his letter of accreditation to the Foreign Minister rather than to the President.
Greece, moreover, has taken a consistently pro-Arab stand in the Middle East conflict and has, in fact, refused to go along with its European Economic Community (EEC) partners’ decision to impose sanctions against Syria for its involvement in recent international terrorist acts.
A SUBSTANTIAL DEVELOPMENT
The upgrading of Israel’s representation in Athens from Consular level to diplomatic mission, coupled with other recent manifestations of Greek-Israeli cooperation represents a substantial advance in their relations.
Gilboa in fact had cause to be pleased with the circumstances surrounding his meeting with Papoulias. For one thing, his arrival in Athens caught the Foreign Minister on the run. Papoulias had just returned from a three-week visit to the United States and West Germany and had to report to Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou Tuesday before leaving that evening for a week-long meeting of the EEC in Brussels.
Foreign Ministry officials suggested to the Israeli envoy that he present himself to the Deputy Foreign Minister to avoid waiting a week or more to see Papoulias. Gilboa refused. When Papoulias was advised of this, he immediately arranged to see the Israeli.
That was something of a precedent, for the new Egyptian Ambassador had been forced to wait a month to present his credentials to the President and the Chinese Ambassador waited three months. Papoulias’ concurrence with the Israel’s wishes was seen as significant.
Also regarded as significant was the fact that the two men met with no one present except Papoulias’ translator.
Another indication that Greece seeks to improve its ties with Israel was the fact that the meeting took place only a day after the United Nations Security Council adopted an Arab-sponsored resolution condemning Israel for the shooting deaths of two Palestinian students at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank on December 4. Asked by reporters if Papoulias had referred to the incident, Gilboa shook his head. Observers here suggested that the courtesies extended to the Israeli representative stemmed from the fact that he heads the Foreign Ministry’s World Jewish Affairs Division in Jerusalem and is therefore quite close to American Jewish leaders. The Greek government is very sensitive to American opinion.
The establishment of the Israeli mission here followed an exchange of visits between the Tourism Ministers of both countries which resulted in agreement to launch a joint Greek-Israel advertising and promotion campaign to attract American tourists. The agreement was finalized in Jerusalem last month.
In addition, a delegation of Greek agronomists, headed by George Drys, Secretary General of the Ministry of Agriculture in Athens, is leaving this week on a visit to Israel to discuss agricultural problems and possible cooperation. They are returning the visit to Greece last June of the Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, Meir Ben-Meir.