Israel and Greece have signed what would be their biggest defence deal to date with the establishment of a $1.65 billion Greek training base in Israel. The air base would be equipped with ten M-346 training aircraft as well as tools to upgrade and operate Greece's T-6 aircraft, along with training, simulators and logistical support.
Israeli defence contractor Elbit Systems has committed to a 22-year agreement to provide logistical and support material for the Hellenic aviation. Following the announcement, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said: “I am certain that (this programme) will upgrade the capabilities and strengthen the economies of Israel and Greece and thus the partnership between our two countries will deepen on the defence, economic and political levels,”.
The statement followed a meeting in Cyprus on Friday between the UAE, Greek, Cypriot and Israeli foreign ministers, who agreed to deepen cooperation between their countries. In this regard, the Cypriot foreign minister said that “the evolving web of regional cooperation is creating a new narrative, one that is cracking the glass ceiling of the prevailing, restrictive narrative of our neighbourhood as a region of turmoil, conflict and crisis”.
The meeting also agreed on solutions to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical research and the distribution of vaccines, as well as addressing energy security in the region. “This meeting is one of the results of the changes that have taken place in the Middle East over the past year, thanks to a brave and bold decision by leaders,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said after the summit’s conclusion. Alongside this, the talks are reportedly taking place against a backdrop of growing concerns in the region over Turkey's increased activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Moreover, Israel has already conducted an operation involving Israeli fighter jets against an S-300 stationed in Crete in a previous exercise. The Russian-made air defence system is also deployed in Israel's enemies Syria and Iran. The agreement also marks a strengthening of ties between Greece and Israel. On January 5, Gantz had already agreed with his Greek counterpart to sign an agreement on security cooperation. The two sides are also reportedly working on the possibility of flight schools.
The meeting was also attended by former UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash, who worked on the historic normalisation of relations and cooperation with Israel. Gargash said that "the Abrahamic accords were mainly driven by the necessity of an alternative strategic view of the region based on stability, prosperity and opportunity', a goal that is increasingly closer to being realised with cooperation between the countries of the region.
For Gantz, “this cooperation agreement rests on the excellence of Israeli industry and on the strong, longstanding relations between the defense establishments of Israel and Greece". This resolution follows an international tender in which the winning bid was approved by the Greek government.
This approval by Athens opens the door for Israel to a path of strengthening and future negotiations aimed at strengthening relations between the two states. Moreover, the intensification of relations would mean a real opportunity to work towards changing the face of the Middle East in terms of security and prosperity.