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Menachem Gantz
Our new friend, Greece
Op-ed: Flotilla organizers failed to take into account drastically improved Israel-Greece ties

ATHENS – For a whole year, organizers of the second “freedom flotilla” to Gaza have been preparing for the climax: A media-covered confrontation, violent or not, with IDF soldiers at sea. For a long year they were engaged in eliciting millions of Euros for the purchase of vessels, recruitment of a crew, the organization of activists, ties with the media and the setting up of an international operation.

 

According to the plan, by July they should have been released from Israel, after commandos would have taken over the ships and led to them to the Ashdod Port. Yet in practice, the flotilla is stuck in Athens and it’s unclear when it would be able to set sail.

 

Every day, more journalists quit, key figures such as parliament members become impatient, and the flotilla becomes less interesting. The delay may prompt a strong desire for a violent confrontation among the hard core of participants, especially in order to regain exposure.

 

It appears that organizers did not take one thing into account: Greece’s attitude to the flotilla and that dramatic change this year in Israel-Greece ties. Similarly to Turkey, Greece was considered fertile ground for planning and executing the flotilla. The moment Turkey announced that it was withdrawing its support, Greece became the more natural default option. The country was always considered a pro-Arabic state and an enthused supporter of the Palestinians.

 

Andreas Papandreou, the father of the serving Greek prime minister, was a personal friend of Yasser Arafat. Only in 1992 did the Greeks upgrade their diplomatic ties with Israel and ambassadors were sent to both capitals. However, Greece’s attitude to Israel remained hostile, and just like Ireland and Portugal it was considered one of the most hostile states to Israel in the European Union.

 

Arabs didn’t help Greece

However, this year Greece’s prime minister decided to reshuffle the deck. The crisis in ties between Israel and Turkey, Greece’s neighbor and rival, created an opportunity. US-born George Papandreou did not only absorb his father’s social doctrine, but other values as well, from his American mother. As president of the Socialist International, he understands that Greece’s global status will be boosted should it apply a more balance Mideastern policy.

 

Moreover, as Greece just went bankrupt in practice, the country is engaging in self-reflecting at this time. The Greeks realize that the support for the Arabs did no good and that they received nothing in exchange for it. Investments from Arab tycoons never poured in, they did not create jobs, and no Arab state offered loans under better terms than what the Europeans agreed to offer in order to avert disaster.

 

In the current crisis, Greece is a greater believer in American power and in the influence of American Jewry. Last year, Greece’s prime minister visited in Jerusalem, and PM Netanyahu headed to Greece immediately after that, thereby marking a fundamental change in the ties between the two countries. Mutual visits by ministers led to frequent trips by officials and journalists, strategic ties developed considerably, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis headed for vacations in the Greek islands.

 

Officials in Jerusalem are now seeing the results of this change. Every day that passes without the flotilla setting sail marks yet another Greek reward for the State of Israel. Thus far, the Greeks did everything in their power to prevent the flotilla from heading out. The general strike last week was utilized to that end, and the last weekend was also stretched in order to prompt another delay.

 

If last year flotilla organizers managed to surprise Israel and the IDF, this year it was Greece that surprised the organizers. The Greek determination to stop an American vessel, as happened Friday, is unprecedented. The Greeks intend to go as far as they can: Greek officials already expressed doubts whether the flotilla will be setting sail in the coming days.

 

 

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