Greece warily watches growing Israeli-Turkish military relations

ATHENS, July 14 (JTA) — Israel’s growing military links with Turkey may have a distinct downside. Israeli officials have welcomed the bilateral military agreements reached with Turkey during the past year, seeing Ankara as a strong potential ally in a largely hostile Arab world. But Israel’s links with Ankara have the potential to embroil the Jewish state in the decades-old tensions between two traditional foes, Greece and Turkey, over the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Greek officials, like many in the Arab world, have cast a distrustful eye on recent Israeli-Turkish military agreements, which include weapons deals and agreements for joint military exercises. This week the Athens government found a new reason to criticize those agreements. A government spokesman based the criticisms on reports in the Turkish press regarding an exercise involving six Turkish planes at an Israeli air base. The scenario for the exercise reportedly involved air strikes in Cyprus if Russia proceeded with plans to install its S-300 anti-aircraft missiles on the island. The spokesman, Dimitris Reppas, said Monday that if the reports were true, it proved that the Israeli-Turkish alliance was a destabilizing influence in the eastern Mediterranean. A senior Israel Air Force commander was recently quoted in an Israeli news report as confirming that Turkish fighter jets were training in the Negev, but declined to say what the exercises involved. The Israeli Embassy in Athens, however, denied the Turkish news reports, saying in a statement that the Jewish state’s “cooperation with countries in the region is not directed against third parties and certainly not against Greece and Cyprus.” Even as the embassy was issuing the statement, Turkish military sources announced that Ankara had decided to increase the number of its military attaches in Israel from one to three. Compounding Greek fears, Russian and Cypriot officials said Monday they were prepared to implement an agreement to deploy the Russian-made S-300 missiles on Cyprus. While criticizing in recent months the Israeli-Turkish military partnership, Greece had its own chance to establish similar ties with Israel in 1993. During a visit to Israel at the time, Athens’ then-defense minister, Gerasimos Arsenis, received from his hosts a 10-page proposal for joint military maneuvers, intelligence sharing and cooperation between the two countries’ defense industries. For reasons never disclosed by the Greek government, the proposal was rejected.

NEXT STORY