Israel, Greece, and Cyprus Emerge as a Bulwark of Freedom in the Eastern Mediterranean

December 20, 2018 | Efraim Inbar
About the author: Efraim Inbar is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS).

Today, the leaders of Cyprus, Greece, and Israel are meeting for what will be the fifth such summit of this new alliance, which has been built in part on plans to cooperate in the extraction of natural gas. The three countries also share concerns about the increasing influence of Russia, Turkey, and Iran in the eastern Mediterranean. Each of the latter three has established a presence in both Syria and the Balkans, and both Turkey and Iran have significant influence in the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile the U.S. no longer maintains an aircraft carrier in the area and appears to have decided to withdraw its troops from Syria. Efraim Inbar comments:

The eastern Mediterranean has always been important to Israel because over 90 percent of Israel’s foreign trade traverses this area. The gas fields discovered and now being mined in Israel’s Mediterranean economic waters have magnified [its] importance. . . . However, Israel’s gas riches are under threat. Hamas and Hizballah are investing in their naval forces. Hamas already has fired missiles against an Israeli-operated gas rig, and Hizballah has threatened to do so. The Russian and Turkish navies might yet adopt more adventurous postures, too. There may soon be an Iranian naval presence commensurate with Tehran’s hegemonic ambitions.

Thus, Israel has one more strategic flank to protect. Unfortunately, the naval component in the Israeli military has not been sufficiently prioritized. Israel needs a bigger and stronger navy. The rationale for a larger Israeli naval force is even more compelling given the enormous missile threat aimed at Israel, making Israel’s airfields and strategic ground assets ever more vulnerable.

Israel’s military deficit in the eastern Mediterranean [stands in sharp contrast to] its diplomatic success. It became a close partner in an eastern Mediterranean alignment that consists of Greece and Cyprus. Egypt is indirectly also a member [of this alliance], although it prefers to interact separately with Israel. The four countries share similar concerns about Turkish foreign-policy directions and have similar energy interests. Cooperation in Washington on eastern Mediterranean issues is also important.

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