ATHENS (JTA) – Greece and Israel signed a security cooperation agreement amid declining Israeli relations with neighboring Turkey.
Greek Defense Minister Panos Beglitis, making the first official visit by a Greek defense minister to Israel, and his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, signed a cooperation memorandum on security in Jerusalem on Sunday during the first day of Beglitis’ three-day trip.
"I come as my country’s defense minister to state our political will as a government, as well as the majority of the country’s political forces, for the two countries, the two governments, the two peoples, to work together so that we can further develop and deepen our bilateral relations in all sectors of mutual interest and concern," Beglitis said.
The visit is part of a cooperation memorandum signed last year between Prime Minister George Papandreou and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Last week a Greek Parliament committee approved the purchase from Israel of Rafael-made Spice 1000 and 2000 bomb precision upgrade kits at a cost of $155 million for 400 systems.
Israel’s ambassador to Greece, Arie Mekel, noted the "unprecedented number of high-level visits" between Israel and Greece this year. He said the visit by Beglitis "highlights again the dramatic upgrade of the relations between Greece and Israel for the benefit of both countries."
Beglitis clarified that his visit concerns bilateral relations with the State of Israel exclusively and is not functioning competitively with other countries in the region.
His visit comes in the wake of the release last week of the United Nations’ Palmer report which said that Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip is legal, but that Israel used excessive force when boarding the Turkish-flagged ship Mavi Marmara, leading to the deaths of nine Turkish citizens, in May 2010. Turkey has demanded an apology and, with none forthcoming, said it would ramp up sanctions against Israel.
Beglitis was scheduled to meet Monday with Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, and also will have a private meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He met previously with the chief of Israel’s military, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz.
Barak said he was pleased by the upgrading of the military and defense cooperation between Israel and Greece.
"We are seeing with satisfaction the deepening and widening of relations between us and the Greeks in all sectors, including the security sector, and we desire to see the deepening and widening of this cooperation between the governments, between the Defense Ministries and between our peoples," Barak said.