Τρίτη, 3 Ιουλίου 2012

Why Greece must fortify Israel alliance, shift focus, recognize its own AOZ – now!

by Charles Mouratides

“Beginning is half of everything,” states a popular Greek saying. Now, after elections and the formation of a national unity government, Greece luxuriates in the prospect for new beginnings on several fronts.

Greece’s most significant new beginning would be to focus its domestic attention and its geopolitics on the Eastern Mediterranean basin.

That is where Greece’s future lies. Economically, geopolitically, strategically.

Greece must view the basin as the path to opportunities. Greeks love the sea that embraces their peninsula on three sides and showcases its 3,000 islands. That was also the view of the ancients who established a myriad cities by the sea.

Today, more than ever, Greece’s future lies in the Eastern Mediterranean. Why?

Because it is the home of proven and anticipated hydrocarbon resources that make it the world’s envy.

Because it is home to the area’s strongest military power: Israel, a nuclear power, with its own production of advanced weapons; its highly trained armed forces; its scientific advancements. And Greece has nothing to divide with Israel.

Because it can bring relief to an EU now dependent on Russia’s vast energy fields. 
Commonly held AOZ boundaries in Eastern Med:
1 indicates Greece; 2 Cyprus; 3 Egypt; 4 Israel,5 Lebanon; 6 Syria; 7 Turkey; 8 Libya. Kastelorizois pointed by the red arrow

Eastern Mediterranean focus means at least 3 new vital policiesfor Greece:

First – Fortify the blossoming relations with Israel-- Unique cultural and philosophic traditions have paved a fertile common ground since the days of Alexander the Macedon and the beginning of the Common Era.                                                  

Strong Israeli ties mean a clear-cut strategic preference when other states challenge the partner, as in the Gaza flotilla arms boycott. On the other hand, Greece may become a trade bridge for Israel and Arab countries with whom Greece has had a friendly relationship. A peaceful Mediterranean would be a benefit to all.

Domestically, strong ties mean that Greeks would oppose hate-spewing extremist political diatribes, from both the left and the right.

The fact is, despite uninformed and racist rhetoric from the two extreme camps, neither side made the Alliance with Israel an election issue even though they oppose it. The Radical Left SYRIZA party concentrated on Greece’s economic concessions to EU. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, with its Hitler salutes, made immigrants its cornerstone attack.

Now Greece’s leadership has an opportunity to shine internationally. It can initiate education programs within and across its borders to combat the increasing neo-Nazi presence in the Balkans.  Greece can also lead the EU in tackling the widespread twin issues of undocumented immigration and crime, including drug trade and sex slavery.

Second– Exploitation of hydrocarbons and other Eastern Mediterranean riches will help Greece flourish technologically and economically.

Greek unemployment is at least 22%. Younger generation unemployment at least 35%. The domestic growth rate continues to be negative due to brutal taxes and severe austerity imposed by the EU. These are great threats to the political and social stability of the country as it lacks a strong stimulus for economic growth.

Such stimulus can undoubtedly come from off shore resources. And the best partner again is neighboring Israel: Steady economic growth; unique high tech growth; fast progress in developing off-shore resources; emphasis on security through partnership with U.S. companies.

Israel has successfully developed the commercial aspect of its explorations. A country of about 7.5 million people dependent on Egyptian energy, it is poised to become an international exporter of energy. It has also offered Greece the chance to become a partner and an energy conduit to EU through pipelines.

Israel is already an energy partner of Cyprus, and has provided security to off-shore exploration and drilling within Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (in Greek, AOZ.)

Third– Recognition of the Greek AOZ by Greece. Israel has already issued a map recognizing Greece’s AOZ. Turkey, on the other hand, has declared that Greek drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean would be a cause for war.

Turkey is also pushing a plan to deny Greece a common sea border with Cyprus. This plan seeks to create a sea border for Turkey with Egypt (!) ignoring the existence of Crete.

A basic issue here is the inhabited Greek Island of Kastellorizo. Its presence establishes the common AOZ border of Greece with Cyprus and destroys Turkish claims. The U.S., the EU and Russia have issued statements supporting Greece’s right to explore and drill for hydrocarbons.

Despite its loud threats, Turkey would have an impossible task enforcing its illegal demands in the face of a Greek-Israeli-U.S. partnership. When action time came, Turkey forgot its threats against the Cypriot-Israeli platforms off shore. It is also worth remembering the unprecedented recent Greece-Israel-U.S. aid-and-sea exercise whose stated goals included protection of off shore platforms.

Greece, by delaying action on the AOZ, fails to capitalize on the uncertainties that complicate Eastern Mediterranean politics. Turkish uncertainty has increased due to civil war in neighboring Syria and the amassing of refugees.

The intentional downing of the Turkish warplane by Syria has led Prime Minister Erdogan to characterize Syria’s Assad, formerly his close friend, “a bloody dictator.” Today, Turkey, given to extreme pronouncements, declared Syria “a clear and imminent threat to the security of  Turkey.”

Friction is continuing in southeast Turkey with the Kurds, about 14 million people according to CIA’s worldbook. Internal friction and rich oil reserves, have forced Turkey to make its peace with the other 5 million Kurds in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

Russia remains a strong player with continuously novel moves in the Eastern Mediterranean. President Putin visited Israel last week and continues to serenade it for access to natural gas finds that include the gigantic Leviathan field.

Because of concerns over the civil war and the Russian base in Tartous, Syria, Moscow is dangling a bait in front of Cyprus. Moscow bankers are reportedly talking about a convenient $ 5-billion loan to Cyprus in exchange for a naval base.

Such a combination of partners and circumstances – natural gas, EU needs, local wars, refugees, geopolitical adjustments – are the perfect background for a major change. It is time for the new Greek government to focus on and seize the potential created by the new Eastern Mediterranean.              

Let Greece not become an illustration of mindset failure, the one applied by the late Abba Eban, a brilliant Israeli orator, to a different group of people: “They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

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