John M. Nomikos
(RIEAS Director)

Ioannis Michaletos
(RIEAS Junior Analyst and Editor at Southeastern Europe in World Security Foundation)


Two nations that have been constantly active in world’s history since antiquity are the Greek and Jewish one. Since the era of Mosses and Ulysses those two nations have inexorably been associated with all the historical developments in the Mediterranean region and with active to every worldwide event worth mentioning.  It would be interesting to illustrate that these two great nations have quite a few common elements as regarding to their history of national fulfillment and their aspirations in various historical periods.

The Jewish Zionist movement that was founded in the late 19th century by Theodor Herzl had a significant historical analogy with the then “Grand Idea” of the Greek independent state. The Greek as well as the Jewish Diaspora was split in those that promoted the inclusion of all members of each nationality into a single nation state; and to those that had great economic and social interests and firmly believed that such a move would impair their live hood. The strong Jewish community in the Ottoman Empire feared that a newborn Jewish state would destroy –as it happened- centuries of constructing extensive commercial networks in an area from Danube to Egypt.

Greek and Jewish nationalism though had made considerable gains by aligning themselves. The period between 1878- 1881 during the Berlin Congresses the British Prime Minister Disraeli –and a fervent supporter of a Jewish homeland- agreed to a partial disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, where Greece acquired the Thessaly area and expanded considerably its borders further North.

This period was a turning point to the British policy of stabilizing the Ottomans and signaled the future end of the Sultans rule in the Balkans. To this point it is remarkable to add that the most supportive of the Ottoman Empire where Greek and Jewish Ottoman subjects that clearly were anxious of loosing their tremendous economic power and privileges should the Empire collapsed as it finally happened (1).

Furthermore the Zionist movement in the aftermath of the WWI would have to face stringent resentment from the Ottoman Jews that opposed an idea of an independent Jewish state. During the negotiations for the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in Paris-1919-, The Chief Rabbi of Istanbul Chaim Naoum who was the representative of the Jewish “Miliet” was pressuring actively against for the expansion of the Greek nation state in Minor Asia and also was against the recognition of any independent Jewish area within the area of the then great Ottoman Empire (2).

On the other hand another public figure of the Jewish Diaspora, Henry Morgenthau, who was then Secretary of State of USA, was all for the creation of a Jewish state(3). In parallel the same official was one of the most critical against the Turkish atrocities in Minor Asia during the expulsion of the Greek populous in 1922 and chaired the committee of rehabilitation of Greek refugees. For his overall contribution to Greek causes Morgenthau was awarded as Emeritus Professor of the University of Athens and was honored by numerous Greek officials.

After the recognition of the state of Israel -1948- and until 1991, Greece viewed Israel as an antagonist force in the Eastern Mediterranean basin and followed a more pro Arab stance, that reflected amongst others the anxiety of the dependency Greece had on import of crude oil from Arab countries which had in plenty of instances proceed in an embargo against the West. Still, largely for strategic reasons, Israel and Turkey maintained fairly close relations while the interaction between Israel and Greece was minimal. Over the years, Greek relations with Israel have been complicated by the rivalry between Greece and Turkey and in an essence creating a triangular relation that was characterized by the adversary between Greece vs. Turkey; the cooperation between Turkey and Israel, and the lukewarm relations between Greece and Israel.

Moreover Greece had been in the 19th century the Western bulwark against the Ottoman Empire (4) and saw the newly founded Israel replacing this role as regarding to the Eastern Mediterranean affairs. In a nutshell Israel during the Cold War was deemed more important for the Western interests and that wasn’t easily understood by the Greek policy figures that at that time were pursuing the “Enosis” with Cyprus, without taking into the account the new realities formed in the region after WWII(5).

Greek-Israeli relations were stagnant for almost 45 years. Changes began to occur in 1995 due to several factors. One was Greece's desire to increase its deterrent power vis-à-vis Turkey. Another element was the death of the pro-PLO Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou in June 1996. The improvement in U.S.-Greece relations also encouraged a shift toward Israel, as did the progress in the Middle East Peace negotiations. Of course the triangular relation between Greece-Turkey-Israel continued in parallel with an enforcement of the ties between the last two states.

In September 1998, Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai denied that Turkey's visiting Prime Minister was seeking Israeli support should fighting break out with Greece over Cyprus. “Turkish-Israeli cooperation is not against any other country,” Benjamin Netanyahu said during a welcoming ceremony with his Turkish counterpart. The latter statement revealed that the aims of the Israeli state concerning its cooperation with Turkey was mostly irrelevant to the brinkmanship with Greece, which is viewed as a separate geopolitical unit for Israeli interests. (6)

The optimum explanation for the above is the fact of the end of the East- West antagonism after 1989 that completely changed the geopolitical outlook of the Eastern Mediterranean Basin and actually - despite the contrarily beliefs- brought the two countries closer. Both states are the only truly democracies in the region, have a high GNP, a well educated workforce and face increasing pressure from trends ranging from immigration to rising criminality and changing societal norms  (7).

There is one though difference that sets those nation in different perspective. The end of the Cold War gave the opportunity to the Greeks of expanding their influence to the Balkan hinterland and the Black Sea thus upgrading the geopolitical importance of the country as regarding to the political calculations of the Western centers. On the other hand, Israel is not longer seen as the sole defender of Western interest in the Middle East, since the USA has already established its forces firmly in Iraq and more importantly the main preoccupation of Western politics are to be found into acquiring influence in the energy rich states of central Asia.

The main result of the developments over the past 15 years is the anxiety of the Israeli state for its overall security in a long term and the stabilization of a new Middle Eastern order that would be beneficial for the estimations of the Israeli state.

Furthermore, the improvement in relations between the two states was reflected in the increase in trade, which doubled between 1989 and 1995. That year Israel exported $200 million worth of chemicals and oil products to Greece and imported $150 million worth of cement, food, and building materials. Israel is, in fact, the Middle East’s second largest importer for Greek products. In 2004 the figures were $ 242 million for Israel and $ 174 million for Greece, whilst 120,000 Israelis ventured to Greece for their vacations (8).

Lastly in a recent visit in Athens the Israeli  President Katzav reiterated his country's political will for Greek-Israeli relations to develop even further, adding that "we consider Greece an important economic partner of Israel's economy, as well as a gateway to the Balkans(9)."

A Greek-Israeli cooperation agreement on military affairs was concluded as early as December 1994 (predating the Turkish-Israeli agreement of February 1996); however, both sides refrained from activating the agreement. Greece was apparently concerned about alienating the Arab world while Israel did not wish to upset the Turks. Greece and Israel agreed to hold joint naval maneuvers at the end of the summer 1997, but they were indefinitely postponed by the Greeks. The reason given for the postponement was that the Greek navy was busy preventing infiltrations from Albania, and it could not spare a frigate for the exercises. On recent times unofficial reports, detail a more enchased geostrategic alignment between the two countries, although it is seems of a more subtly nature that a typical pact or defense agreement (10).

On the other hand, the great effect the Israeli- Turkish strategic cooperation that started unfolding since 1994(11), proved to be a decisive factor for the reassertion of Israeli posture. By cooperating in a variety of sectors with the Turkish state, it was able to achieve great arms deals (12) and at the same time expand its influence in the Middle East in relation to the issues often arisen with Syria, Iraq and Iran (13). Nevertheless the dramatic events of 9/11 in combination with the upsurge of Islam in Turkey over the past few years have greatly reduced the need of a strong Israeli- Turkish axis, as well as, the cordial relationship between the two states (14).

Moreover the Kurdish independent movement that affects the Turkish stability is well received by the USA administration and most probably the Israeli one, since it relates in solving one of the most complex issues of the New Iraq after 2003(15). And that is how to create a federal and peaceful Iraq by taking into consideration the local needs and beliefs; one of them to be the independent Kurdish state. Moreover the ongoing Iranian issue is inexorably connected with the construction of security structures where the Kurds play an integral role. In this spirit the statements made by the Israeli ambassador in Greece were he stressed the need for warm relations with Athens and the already strong ties between the two countries (16), show that the Israeli administration is heading towards a realignment of its policy that most probably relate into keeping equal distance from the Turkish- Greek antagonism and cultivating parallel cooperatives with both.

On overall Greek- Israeli strategic considerations for each other will always be influenced by a variety of factors that deal with structural changes in their region’s geopolitical situation. For the time being the warm relations those states are enjoying is mostly attributed to the non-antagonistic interests and the similarity of their societal structure.

Future will tell if the two oldest surviving nations of the Mediterranean would eventually found themselves readily enough for a closer, strategically aimed cooperation in relation to the problems arising from 21st history.

1)Β. Καρδάσης, ΄΄Από του ιστίου εις τον ατμό΄΄, Αθήνα, Ε.Τ.Β.Α, 1993, Σελ 47.
2)L. Evans, “United States policy and Partition of Turkey”, Baltimore, John Hopkins Institute, 1965, Page 128.
3) P.Grose, “Israel in the mind of America”, New York, Schocken Books, 1984,Page 60.
6)John M. Nomikos, “Greek Israeli Relations”,
7)T. Morrison, “Dun& Bradstreet’s guide to doing business around the world”, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1997, Page 214-15. And CIA Fact book,Ed.2006
11)Γεώργιος Μούρτος ΄΄Τουρκία- Ισραήλ και η έκλειψη της Ελλάδος από τον φυσικό της χώρο΄΄, Αθήνα, Επικοινωνίες Εκδόσεις, 1999, Σελ. 45-6.
16) Interview of His Excellency Ram Aviram for the Institute of Defense Analysis(, May 2006. Published in Strategy magazine(

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