As Israel's ties to Turkey remain distant, ties with Greece are growing warmer. Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas was in Israel this Monday to meet with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and sign an aviation treaty.
In July, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that Israel and Greece would undergo “a major upgrade of relations.” He spoke as Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou visited Israel in the first visit by a sitting Greek prime minister in decades.
Both Israel and Greece have denied a connection between Israel's strained ties with once-friendly Turkey and its newfound friendship with Greece. Droutsas stated that there was no competition between Greek's ties to Israel and its relationship to Turkey. “Each of these relationships has its own dynamic,” he said. Greece and Turkey fought over control of Cyprus and an uneasy truce exists between the two since 1974 with relations sometimes warming and sometimes at crisis level.
As the two signed the aviation agreement, Lieberman expressed hope that stronger ties between the two countries would be helpful “not only for this country, but the whole region.” During his term in office to date Lieberman has sought to forge new ties, reaching out to South America, southwest Asia, and other parts of the globe sometimes overlooked by Israel's diplomats.
Israel's ties with Turkey began deteriorating when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan took office. Erdogan harshly condemned Israeli counterterror operations in Gaza, and allowed Turkish media to broadcast video clips with an extreme anti-Israel message.
In May, the Turkish government encouraged members of the terrorist group IHH to set sail for Gaza in defiance of Israel's naval ban on Hamas, along with many other foreign activists. IHH members attacked IDF commandos who took control of their ship off the coast of Gaza, leading to a battle in which nine Turkish citizens were killed. Following the clash, Turkey's leaders froze ties with Israel.
Israeli tourism to Turkey, previously the most popular site for vacations and backpacking for Israelis of all ages and economic levels because of its proximity, has dropped by an estimated 90 percent. Tourism industry workers say that many Israelis are now traveling to Greece instead.