Israel’s President Isaac Herzog headed to Greece Thursday for a trip experts said marked a chance to reassure an ally as Israel moves closer to Turkey, with tensions fraught between Athens and Ankara.
Herzog holds a largely ceremonial post but has assumed a high-profile diplomatic role under the Israeli government that took office last year.
He is expected to make a rare visit to Turkey next month for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a prominent critic of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.
But experts said that any Israeli rapprochement with Turkey cannot undermine the Jewish state’s ironclad ties with its Mediterranean neighbors, Greece and Cyprus, two states with long-standing acrimony towards Erdogan’s Turkey.
On his one-day trip, the Israeli president is due to meet his counterpart Katerina Sakellaropoulou, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, as well as opposition leader and ex-premier Alexis Tsipras.
Oded Eran, a senior researcher at the Tel Aviv university’s Institute for National Security Studies, told AFP that while in Athens Herzog must stress that “the attempt to improve relations with Turkey will absolutely not come at the expense of ties with Greece.”
Herzog should underscore that Israel wants to “enhance the eastern Mediterranean cooperation,” with Cyprus and Greece, added Eran, Israel’s former ambassador to the European Union. The president is also due to visit Cyprus next week.
Relations between majority-Muslim Turkey and the Jewish state froze over after the death of 10 civilians in an Israeli raid on a Turkish flotilla carrying aid for the Gaza strip in 2010.
Relations between Israel and Greece have meanwhile deepened over the past decade.
In 2019, Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian territories agreed to create the “East Mediterranean Gas Forum” - without Turkey.
And in 2020, Israel, Greece and Cyprus signed the EastMed deal for a huge pipeline to ship gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe, triggering objections from Ankara.
Eran also noted that Israeli jets that used to conduct drills over Turkey up to 2010 were training in Greek airspace.
An Israeli official who requested anonymity told AFP that “the improvement in the ties with Turkey is not coming at the expense of the very important relations with Greece and Cyprus.”