Greek president in Israel as ties warm

Date: 7/11/2011

By Gavin Rabinowitz | AFP – Mon, Jul 11, 2011

Visiting Greek President Karolos Papoulias met with Israeli leaders on Monday, as long–frosty relations between the two Mediterranean nations reach new heights of cooperation.

Papoulias's three–day trip, which will also take him briefly to the Palestinian territories, comes a week after Athens effectively prevented a flotilla of pro–Palestinian activists from reaching Gaza and breaching Israel's naval blockade of strip.

"I thank you for not allowing these people, who were interested in disturbing the order and breaking international law, from sailing uninspected to Gaza," President Shimon Peres told Papoulias as the two met, according to a statement from his office.

Peres and Papoulias are both elder statesmen with largely ceremonial posts.

Papoulias was also to hold talks later the same day with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as well as opposition leader Tzipi Livni.

"We are pursuing a strong relationship, strong on trade, strong on investment, strong on political and security cooperation," Papoulias told the Jerusalem Post in an interview ahead of his visit.

Greece, traditionally a strong ally of the Arab world, has moved closer to Israel in the past two years on the back of a chill in relations between Israel and Greece's arch–rival Turkey.

Israel and Turkey saw their once–strong alliance hit the rocks after a raid by Israeli naval commandos killed nine Turkish activists on a flotilla of aid ships trying to breach the Gaza Strip blockade in 2010.

A second flotilla failed to sail for Gaza waters this month after Greece refused to give the ships permission to set sail and coast guard vessels with commandos on board intercepted those who tried to make a run for Hamas–ruled Gaza.

Papoulias did not deny the improved relations were partly a result of the situation with Turkey.

"In diplomacy there are always connections, influencing factors, objective and subjective criteria, changing geopolitical and geoeconomic factors that shape relationships," he told the Jerusalem Post.

Ties have also been boosted in the wake of the economic crisis affecting Greece, which has sought new investors, and Israel's discovery of promising gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean.

Chief among the fields is the Leviathan cache, believed to hold 16 trillion cubic feet (450 billion cubic metres) of reserves, and Greece hopes to position itself as a potential conduit of gas to the European continent.

"The discovery of major reserves off the coast of Cyprus and Israel changes the geoeconomic situation in the region. It opens up new opportunities for cooperation between Greece, Israel and Cyprus," Papoulias told the Post.

Papoulias is also to meet Greek Orthodox religious leaders in the Holy Land and travel to Ramallah in the West Bank on Tuesday for meetings with Palestinian officials.


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