Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 00:09 am (KSA) 21:09 pm (GMT)

Greece reassures Arab allies over Israel ties

PM Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with the Greek PM George Papandreou and he is the first Israeli PM to visit Greece (File)
PM Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with the Greek PM George Papandreou and he is the first Israeli PM to visit Greece (File)

Greece moved Wednesday to reassure Arab allies over the strength of its friendship, following an improvement in ties with Israel after a landmark visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Improved Greek-Israeli ties were "for the good of Greece and all of the Middle East region... and do not exclude our close cooperation with the Arab world, and particularly our Palestinian friends," Dimitris Droutsas, Greece's Deputy Foreign Minister, said in an interview with radio station Flash.

"Our rapprochement with Israel is not opposed to our traditional relationship of exceptional trust with the Arab world," he said, adding that the improvement in ties had been discussed with "all our friends in the Arab world".

 The cooling of relations between Turkey and Israel is not a reason for the political rapprochement with Israel 
Dimitris Droutsas, Greece\\\\\\\'s Deputy Foreign Minister

Meetings on Monday and Tuesday with the visiting Israeli prime minister were "very useful and entirely successful because we achieved the fixed objectives: deepening of relations and cooperation with Israel," Droutsas said.

"The cooling of relations between Turkey and Israel is not a reason for the political rapprochement with Israel," Droutsas said, adding that Greece would look at all opportunities in foreign policy.

The minister said bilateral discussions had focused on security, military cooperation and economic cooperation. He also reiterated the importance of Israeli tourists to the Greek economy.

Netanyahu's visit was the first by an Israeli head of government to Greece, which has traditionally been pro-Arab and did not recognize the Jewish state until 1991.

Israel and Greece discuss military cooperation

 Relations are now developing at great speed due to our common interests 
Senior Israeli official

Israeli and Greek leaders discussed expanding military ties on Tuesday including sharing military know-how and holding joint war games, officials said.

Israel has been keen to expand ties with Greece as its relations with Turkey -- another strategic Mediterranean partner -- soured since an Israeli raid on a Turkish-backed aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip in May.

As he wrapped up his two-day trip to Greece, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the two nations were "opening a new chapter."

He told reporters that he and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou had discussed military cooperation.

An official in Netanyahu's entourage said these discussions "explored establishing greater cooperation between both countries' military industries and armies."

A Greek official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed they "talked about new forms of cooperation on defense and security issues" including the expansion of joint military exercises and sharing technological knowledge.

In a symbolic gesture, Papandreou hosted Netanyahu on a trip to an island off the Athens coast on Tuesday, setting sail on a missile boat Israel sold to Greece eight years ago.

Papandreou told a joint news conference with the Israeli leader on Monday that they were looking at expanding strategic ties. Israeli officials said a team of experts on security and trade ties would soon meet to map out further details.

Netanyahu has said he wants to mend fences with Turkey and that upgrading relations with Greece could further that goal.

Greece is Turkey's long-standing rival in the Mediterranean. They came to the brink of war at least twice in the 20th century.

Israel sees Greece as more ready to build ties with it because it senses that Athens' traditional Arab allies seem less opposed than in the past, due to shared fears of Iran which many in the West believe is seeking to make a nuclear bomb.

"Relations are now developing at great speed due to our common interests," another senior Israeli official told reporters on the sidelines of the trip.

Israel and Greece signed a defense cooperation agreement in 1994.

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