(Εxpert Μilitary Analyst, he received his B.A. in Army War College and M.A. in the National Security School)
On the chessboard of international power, the control of terrestrial and marine energy routes conveying crude oil and natural gas, from production to consumer areas, play a very influential role. Due to its geographical position, the region of the eastern Mediterranean has always been one of the most important points of the globe, as far as the distribution of raw energy materials is concerned.
Moreover the very recent discoveries of substantial natural gas reserves in the EEZ of Cyprus and Israel, which according to the report of NOBLE,(the deposits of the Venus sea bed are estimated at 5 trillion cubic feet) impart a new dimension to the importance of controlling the marine energy venue Israel-Cyprus-Greece and vice versa. The importance of the existing Greek hydrocarbon reserves south of Crete, which are situated on the same axis, is worth taking into consideration. It should be mentioned here that despite the scientific evidence, the final processing of the data gathered by the seismic surveys south of Crete are expected early 2014. The data received up till now, however is encouraging and has aroused keen interest.
All the above conduce to a solid cooperation in the energy sector between the countries Israel, Cyprus and Greece as well as the upgrading of a military cooperation of those three countries, in order to ensure stability, the preservation of peace and the smooth flow of energy raw materials (oil and gas) to EU countries primarily and secondly to those of the Middle East.
Military Cooperation Israel-Cyprus-Greece
Attempting a brief historical assessment would tell us that the military cooperation between the above countries can be characterized as being on a very limited scale, until the year 2008, and is therefore not significant to mention in some detail. For example, Greece signed a defense agreement with Israel in 1994.Since then the agreement was renewed three times over the past eleven years, the last time being in 2005.
It is appropriate to refer to those factors that essentially constituted a brake on broader defense cooperation between the three countries until 2005.
The Cyprus issue and attempts to solve it on the side of Cyprus-Greece, since 1974 onwards, directed the foreign policy of the two countries towards a pro Arab-Palestinian trend. The reason was primarily to ensure an affirmative vote of the Arab states in the United Nations in favor of the Cyprus issue, when required.
Naturally this brought Greece/Cyprus in conflict with Israel regarding the Palestinian issue and secondly to Syria /Lebanon and other Arab countries not sympathetic to Israel.
On the other hand , Turkish-Israeli military cooperation in the 1990's ,left no margin for a cooperation in this field with Greece-Cyprus, for obvious reasons. A number of other important parameters eventually led to the strengthening of a military ooperation between Israel-Cyprus-Greece. These may be summarized as follows:
-Turkey, in her capacity as a member of the OIC countries is taking continuously increasing pro Palestinian positions. These culminated in the events that took place on 31 May 2010, with the attack by Israeli security forces during the convoy movement Free Gaza, which caused the death of 9 and injured 60 activists.
The events that took place primarily on the ship MAVI MARMARA and the aftermath, between Turkey and Israel, seriously injured the relations between these two countries.
After the Palestinian issue, another very serious problem in the Turkish-Israeli relations arose. Turkey accuses Israel for its support to the Kurdish enclave of Northern Iraq, which would mean a deadly threat by the creation of a Kurdish state, which would lead to its eradication.
On the other hand Israel knows that there are Kurdish minorities outside of Turkey. i.e in Syria, Iran and Iraq, which could prove very useful tools to pressure these states.
The Palestinian and Kurdish problems are two very important issues where Turkey and Israel have totally opposite interests, however they play an important role in straining Turkish-Israeli relations.
The discovery of energy raw materials in the Cyprus-Israeli EEZ and the apparent discovery of hydrocarbon sources south of Crete, have brought Israel-Cyprus and Greece very close to defense and security matters.
Joint Military Exercises -Defense cooperation.
The purely military cooperation between the three countries and the events as from 2008 onwards in chronological order are as follows:
- An exercise named GLORIOUS SPARTAN took place late May early June 2008 in the Eastern Mediterranean and within the Athens FIR, with the participation of Greek and Israeli air forces. The scenario of the exercise was, according to reliable sources, exclusively of Israeli planning although the operational control was the responsibility of the headquarters of Tactical Aviation in Larissa. Israeli aircraft flew in three waves. About 10 fighter aircraft F-16 and F-15c, comprised the peak force, while other aircraft were used as escort and coverage. Israeli aircraft refueled south of Crete in the air by a flying tanker KC-135R. The Israelis did not use live ammunition, while the maneuvers in which they participated in the shooting field of KRANEAS, cement and sand training bombs, were used. The planes were then refueled and some returned to Israel, while those that were supposed to be shot down, landed in the airfields of Andravidas and Kastelli in Crete. In addition, at least two Israeli helicopters were hosted by the 133 combat Group Kastelli where they participated in research and rescue operation together with Greek Super Puma.
The exercise, according to international press reports, resembled a dress rehearsal for an attack on nuclear facilities in Iran, despite the fact that the Pentagon informed the allied governments, including the Greek, that an Israeli attack on Iran is not conducive to peace
- From 26 -31 May 2010,a joint Greek/Israeli air exercise under the name MINOAS 2010 took place, under the auspices of a military cooperation between the Air Forces of the two countries. The exercise was conducted on the mainland, the Ionian, and the Aegean. On the Israeli side 5 F-16 and F-15, and on the Greek side 15 F-16, stationed in the 110 Combat wing in Souda. The exercise comprised crew training, aircraft aerial refueling by Israeli aerial tankers. For this purpose three sites in the Northern Aegean sea, the Ionian sea and south of Crete, have been selected. Also, the Greek crew had the possibility of training in the aerial refueling, although the Greek planes were not involved in the actual training. It should be noted that this exercise was to last until June 3, 2010,but was interrupted by the events that took place on 31 May 2010, with the attack by Israeli security forces during the convoy operation FREE GAZA which resulted in the death of 9 and the injuring of 60 activists.
-On 18-19 June 2010, after the approval of the competent Greek authorities, seven Israeli helicopters CH-53 t\ and three C-130 were trained along a runway that extends from Carpathos and Rhodes islands, to Mount Athos at 6000 feet. The scenario of the exercise provided aerial refueling of the specially transformed helicopters C-130, and simulating penetration of special forces, deep in the hostile hinterland. The Israeli CH-53 belonged to the 114th and 118th Squadrons of CHEL HAVIR airbase located in Tel Nof south of Tel Aviv.
Apart from air exercises in the Greek skies, it is probable that the Israeli/Greek cooperation will advance to the field of special operations. The former Lieutenant General Frangoulis Frangos, had received Israeli proposals for a joint training for teams of special forces from both countries. Specifically, during the annual meeting of the COS (Chiefs of staff), which took place in May 2010 in Croatia, Lieutenant General Frangos sent through his aid- de- camp, two books with historical and photographical material concerning islands of the Aegean. His Israeli counterpart, reciprocated this gesture with a sealed envelope containing a letter of invitation for bilateral special forces exercise in Tel Aviv, next October.
- From June 11 to 14 October centered on the airport of Andravida airforce base, the second phase of the exercise "MINOAS", took place. The scene of action was the Aegean, with fighter planes. It was interrupted however because of the attack of Israeli special forces on the freedom ships sailing towards Gaza. The exercise was deemed highly efficient coordinating role played the Air tactical Center in Anravida Israelis had 6 helicopters (3 Black Hawk UH -60and 3 Apachi AH-64D and 2 reserves.
On the Greek side, 1 Super Puma, 2 army Apache and six fighters of various types, were involved. The scenario of the exercise foresaw SAR (Search and Rescue) of pilots by commando forces, in the mainland of Central, north, and west Peloponnesos which have been characterized by noteworthy military sources, as being actual battlefields.
Besides increasing the number of exercises and training of Israeli aviation in Greece, Tel Aviv is seeking greater cooperation in the sector of armaments with the Greek side and gives emphasis to the exchange of expertise, etc. Discussions are already taking place for the supply to the Air Forces special kits for the upgrading of the older missiles Spice, whilst Israel is staking a claim to participate in a bid alongside with companies from Germany, USA and France for the supply of the second batch of about 80,000 missiles for the tanks "Leopard 2 Hell which will be produced jointly with the EAS.
In this context, they informed the Greek ministry of Defense, that they possess ammunition types similar to those 12000 which the ministry has recently decided to purchase from the German government .The Israeli company concerned, is expected to express an interest in entering the EAS as a strategic investor, especially if it has to provide bulk orders from abroad, such as are pursued by Athens.
- On December 3,2010, 4 firefighting aircraft Canadair CL-415 arrived in Israel and helped to extinguish the large fire that raged uncontrolled in Haifa. The aircraft belonged to the 383 MEEA (suadron of specific operations and airborne firefighting) of the 113 fighter wing. They departed at night of December 2 from Thessaloniki, accompanied by one C-130, which transported technical and reserve crews. They refueled in Larnaka and reached their destination in Israel before first light. Apart from the humane aspect and the merit of assistance in distress in a foreign country, the diplomatic significance of this measure is beyond any doubt, especially since the Greek aircraft were amongst the first foreign forces to rush to Israel's aid.
In July 2011 a joint Greco-Israeli exercise, CSAR took place in Larissa. The famous team of special operations 669 (Yechidat Hilu'z Vehapinu'i Behethes 669 airborne team for intelligence and rescue)was accompanied by the lieutenant general in charge.
The men of 669 undergo very rigid training which includes specific courses in first aid on the battlefield, parachute drops in free fall, static strap, scuba diving, orientation, rescue under extreme adverse conditions, addressing terrorists.
The exercise took place in Thessaly, with focus on Larissa. On the Israeli side, apart from transport helicopters,6 Apachi,and 7 Black Hawks were taking part whilst on the Greek side 4 Apachi,4 Huey ,1 Super Puma and 2 F-16 fighter planes, participated.It is worth mentioning that the program of joint operations in Greece and Israel, were amongst the major topics in the discussions that the Head of the Greek Air Forces Brigadier B. Klokazos during his visit to Tel Aviv at that period.
From the Greek side besides the armaments was the procurement based on a bilateral agreement, of the guidance system SPICE which is fixed as a kit on bombs of general purpose, which are available within the Greek arsenals, with the purpose of enhancing the accuracy of targeting land objectives.
- September 2011. A defense agreement between Greece and Israel was signed by the Secretary of National Defense. According to unconfirmed information, this agreement provides Israeli air forces and the navy to be hosted at Greek military bases in the Mediterranean, while the security agencies of both countries will share info material. This is of significant importance in a period of tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
- October 2011. It seems that the Cyprus government has decided on a full military cooperation with Israel after it was agreed to have joint exercises. Although Cyprus has no Air Force (only Russian made attack helicopters for search and rescue has), but has a modern military airport base in Paphos called "Andreas Papandreou. This was created for the needs of a common defense doctrine. So Tel Aviv is planning exercises in the airspace of Cyprus (previously issued NOTAM) that includes air refueling, aircraft interceptions, but also exercises on touch and go in Paphos. Unconfirmed info, suggests that Cyprus and Israel have agreed on the exchange of intelligence, joint exercises with helicopters in the Cypriot airspace etc.
- From 14 to 18 November 2011, a team from the 110 Fighting wing was officially in Israel, to participate in joint training exercises. Specifically, five Greek fighter planes F-16 Block 52+ their pilots and the required technical staff, all from the 337 Squadron. They met their counterparts in OVDA Airbase on the southern tip of Israel. This was conducted under the military cooperation program, Greece-Israel 2011
14 December 2011. A lot of movement of Israeli helicopters over the airspace of Cyprus has been reported during that period. Eight Black Hawk patrolling the area landed shortly after noon at Larnaca airport under the auspises of joint military exercises. The aircraft mentioned had received permission from the civil aviation authorities to land at Larnaca. Meanwhile, Israel almost daily performs patrols over Cyprus, in order to control the area. This fact strengthens the defense cooperation between the two countries, whilst sending a very clear message both to the Turkish and the Cypriot public opinion, of the intentions of Israel to maintain security in the region.
23 December 2011.The program of a military cooperation between Greece and Israel for the year 2012 was signed. The final context of the cooperation was made between 19 and 22 December 2011 in Israel, where a delegation of 4 representatives of the relative Greek high military command. The political framework had been agreed upon during the visit of the minister of Defense Mr. P Beglitis. The military cooperation program for the year 2012 includes several joint exercises of both airforces, daily and longer mutual exercises in the framework of other actions. These training exercises shall take place in the Greek airspace and the Athens FIR in general. For the execution of these manovers it has been foreseen that Israeli aircraft will be based on Greek soil. A similar program has been scheduled for joint naval activities most of which will take place in the Mediterranean. For the army, an exchange of intelligence, as well as the exchange of personnel for studies in the institutes of the reciprocal countries, on different levels, has been decided. Similar student exchange will take place at the military academies. Military sources have indicated that the individual joint actions are not always specifically documented and are subject to additional specifications and deployments.
-10 January 2012. The Greek Ministry of Defense, visited the Vice President and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, during his 2 day official visit to Athens. Mr Barak met with Minister of Defence D. Avramopoulos. Working groups of the two countries convened to define the areas of cooperation.
-13 February 2012. In a highly symbolic gesture, the new head of the Israeli Air force decided for his first trip, after taking office, to visit Athens. Major General AMIR ESEL arrived in Athens on 13 February 2012. Major General ESEL visited and held discussions with policy makers,on issues of mutual military interest .He met with Chief of Hellenic National Defense General Staff ,General Michael Kostarakos, the Chief of Hellenic Navy General Staff, Vice admiral Kosmas Christides and the Chief of Hellenic Air Force General Staff ,Air Marshal Anthony Tsantirakis.
-18 July 2012. Ships of the Israeli Navy conducted five exercises in the high seas of Mirtoo. The exercises include firing missiles on the rocky islet of Karavia, west of Milos.This is an indication of the enhanced military cooperation Athens - Tel Aviv in the military Navy sector. The Radar in Parniths, was responsible for the synchronisation of the volleys. According to Israeli established policy, the number and types of the ships, which took part, were not revealed. However, according to unconfirmed info, the corvette LEHAV class Sa'ar S and the fighting ship YAFFO class Sa'ar 4.5 of the Israeli Navy, executed volleys and systems of short range defense, (CIWS) Phallanx accompanied by Greek torpedo boat CRYSTALIDIS (P69) Because of an agreement Papoulias- Yilmaz not to carry out manoevers during the summer period, no Greek air and naval units were involved in this exercise. The fact that the exercise was performed just days after the completion of the 4-day visit of the Chief of Hellenic Navy General Staff, Vice admiral Cosmas Christidis, after the invitation of the Israeli Naval commander Vice admiral Ram Rutberg, does not seem accidental.The greek Vice admiral visited the Israeli Naval base in Haifa. There he sailed for a short trip on the updated corvette type Sa'ar 5.
-Early September 2012. Airborne exercises between Greece and Israel took place in southern Crete with dozens of helicopter simulated fights over Ierapetra involving sophisticated attack helicopters. The Israeli-Greek helicopters AH-64D Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk, took part in another joint exercise. Each country participated with 8 helicopters. This is not the first time that Israeli AH-64D, are flying so far from their home base. This demonstrates that the Israelis have the possibility a deep penetration by the Apache.
-(5-6 September 2012). The Minister of National Defense Mr. Panos Panagiotopoulos paid an official visit to Israel. This visit was preceeded by an invitation by the acting Premier and Minister of Defense of Israel, Mr. Ehud Barak. During his two day stay, Mr Panagiotopoulos met with the Israeli Premier, Mr Netaniahou, in his office in Jerusalem, as well as with the acting premier Mr Barak, with whom he discussed in a very friendly atmosphere, all matters of common interest of both countries, in the field of their expertise. Allegedly, committees, of specialized officials, were planned for the cooperation of both countries in the defense industrial segment.
- (21-26 October 2012). The Hellenic Air Force General Staff, made a short announcement, that from the 21rst through Friday October 26th, a joint training exercise between Greece and Israel, under the joint Military pact of 2012,will take place in the 110 wing of the air base in Larissa. However based on unconfirmed info, participated in this exercise, personnel and aircrafts of three fighter squadrons of the Israeli Air Base RAMON, the 119 mentioned, the 201 The One AHAT the 107 Suadron "Knights of the orange tail (Ha Rosh Ha Aryev). All had F-16D Block 52/SUFA. It is worth mentioning that this is the third time that Israeli fighter planes are hosted in a Base of the Greek Air Force, which demonstrates the increasing confidence between both airforces, and the high level of cooperation between them.
Findings and conclusions
The defense cooperation between Israel- Greece-Cyprus has been upgraded remarkably from 2008 onwards.
The existing treaties and the prevailing political situation are favorable for a long-term cooperation between the three countries. The problems between Israel and Turkey are manifold and fundamental, prominent of which are the Palestinian and Kurdish issues, where both countries have conflicting interests.
The first issue is of vital importance for Israel to solve, while the second is of similar importance to Turkey. These imply that the relations between Israel and Turkey are expected to remain strained for an unforeseen period of time.
This period therefore, affords a "golden Opportunity" for the establishment of deep and durable defense cooperation Greece-Cyprus-Israel.
Let us not leave this opportunity pass unexploited.
1."The geopolitical importance of the military alliance between Greece and Israel" Panos Nastos 2005.