As two Mediterranean countries that have many similarities and are in close proximity to one another, Greece and Israel enjoy very good bilateral relations, while Greece is also a target for many successful Israeli investments, former Israeli premier Ehud Olmert said in an interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA).
These are ties are now becoming even closer due to the growing distance between Israel and Turkey, Olmert said, but he was reassuring concerning Turkey’s possible reactions to energy projects in the Eastern Mediterranean, suggesting that Turkey, while talking aggressively, “is aware of its limitations”.
Olmert, who served as Israel’s prime minister from 2006 until 2009, also highlighted the importance of the trilateral cooperation between Greece, Israel and Cyprus.
The full interview is given below:
- What are the prospects of bilateral relations between Israel and Greece?
The relations between Israel and Greece are very good at this time. First and foremost because of the natural proximity, closeness and similarities between two Mediterranean countries geographically close to each other. We have a lot of things in common and I think that this natural closeness is reason enough to have good relations. I think the relations are also influenced by the growing distance between Israel and Turkey. I think this has brought Greece and Israel much closer together. I think the time that Greece was in serious economic difficulties, there was much empathy in Israel for the Greek people.
I think that Greece has been a target for many successful investments from Israel. I know someone who is very familiar with investments in Greece and they are very happy with the outcome of their investments and I recommend that more people follow this path. I think there is a good chance that Israeli and Greek businesses can make very good partnerships that would be mutually beneficial. So this is one thing that I’d like to see.
The other thing, I personally spend every year a lot of time with my family and friends in the Greek islands and this is always a wonderful vacation. I know and have visited all the major Greek islands. I would love to see more tourists from Greece coming to Israel. But I am aware that Israel is more expensive and so it’s less expensive to spend time in Greece. I hope more and more Israelis will visit Greece.
- What are the areas of deepening cooperation?
The major relative advantage that Israel has is in hi-tech. This is an area where we can make a good use of the advantages that Israel has to offer to develop the potential that Greece has for the benefit of both countries.
- What do you think about the Greek economy? Are you optimistic?
The Greek economy was in bad shape. It starting to bounce back and I think it will continue to move up. There is no reason why not. I don’t want to suggest any specific opinion about what needs to be done. Some of my friends served in major positions in Greece. I am very friendly with Dimitris Avramopoulos from when I was Mayor of Jerusalem and he was Mayor of Athens, and then was Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence. We have kept this in touch for a long time. And there are many others that I met over the years, who are capable people and I believe they will know how to pull Greece out of its economic problems.
We experienced a similar economic crisis in the late ’90s. We were in a very bad shape economically but we managed to overcome the situation and for many years we are now in a very good shape. During the time that I was in charge of the Israeli economy as Minister of Finance, the annual growth rate in Israel was 5.4%, which was the highest in any western country. Israel had at that time a positive surplus every year and a positive balance of payments, meaning that we sold more than we bought. Today, Israel exports in excess of 100 billion dollars every year, which is a great deal. I don’t see any reason why Greece will not move forward in this direction and everything we could do in cooperation that will help achieve this, I am sure that Israel will be happy to do.
- How does the scheme of trilateral relations between Greece, Cyprus and Israel work?
We have very close relations with Cyprus. Cyprus is our next-door neighbour and a very good friend of Israel. Plenty of Israelis tourists are visiting Cyprus and many Israeli businesses, hi-tech and others, have their headquarters in Cyprus because of tax reasons and also because of the fact that Cyprus is part of the European Union and that gives them a base which helps with the third party connections. Most of these ties of Israel and Cyprus are on the Greek side. So, I think this strengthens the trilateral relationship because Cyprus is very close to Greece.
- What is Israel’s main goal in these trilateral relations?
We don’t have any specific agenda. We want to have good relations with every country where this is possible. It should be natural. There is a large community of Greek people in Israel. They came from Thessaloniki. Some of the most powerful families in Israeli business came from Salonica and they are a large community. Greek music is very popular in Israel. Glykeria is very popular in Israel. I remember that when I was Mayor of Jerusalem she came to sing for me in my office. Many other Greek performers over the years have to come to Israel. I think there is a natural attraction between Israelis and Greek people, between Israel and Greece, and there are good reasons for us to want to have good relations. I think there is mutual benefit for these relations.
- With regard to trilateral relations, does this scheme mark a new era for the region and for these countries?
I don’t know if it has enough volume by European and international standards, but I think it is very significant for the countries involved directly, for Greece, for Israel and for Cyprus. How much influence this will have outside these three countries, I am not enough familiar with every aspect of it to be able to say.
- What do you think about Turkish threats in Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus, and the exploitation of energy resources?
My friend Erdogan has always managed affairs in an aggressive manner, which is not always acceptable or recommended.
Turkey talks a lot, but they do not always carry out their threats. So, I don’t think we have to take it too seriously. [Turkey] talks, it threatens, but at the end of the day, they know their limitations.
- About energy resources in East Mediterranean Sea?
There will be competition, but they are enough measures, legal instruments and ways to deal with these threats without getting into direct confrontation. Therefore, I am not concerned.