Just one week after Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visited Athens, the Greek government announced a large purchase of Israeli military hardware at the high cost of $44 million (Dh161.5 million).
According to the deal, seven Israeli Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) will be leased by Greece to ‘enhance its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance’ capabilities in the Aegean Sea.
The costly transaction is not at all surprising, for it is merely a continuation of an unfortunate alliance that brought Greece, a country that once stood for Palestinian rights, and Israel, a belligerent state that has violated Palestinian human rights for decades, together in an unholy matrimony.
Furthermore, the fact that such a bond is being forged by a Greek government that is led by a party once perceived as a member of the ‘radical left’ is itself a mockery even by the standards of the often morally-flexible European leftist politics.
For a brief historical moment, Alexis Tsipras and his political party, Syriza, ignited hope that Greece could resurrect a long-dormant leftist tide in Europe. But these hopes have, since then, been dashed.
The Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) came to power in January 2015 as a direct outcome of popular discontent with the European Union (EU). It was a time when ordinary people took a stance to fend for some semblance of sovereignty that was not wrestled away from them by politicians, bankers and powerful bureaucratic institutions.
The result, however, was quite disappointing. Tsipras, now prime minister, transformed his political discourse, and gradually adopted one that that is more consistent with the very neoliberal policies that pushed his country to its knees in the first place.
Syriza sold out, not only politically and ideologically, but in an actual physical sense as well.
“The only thing missing outside the office of Greece’s privatisation agency is a sign that reads: ‘A Nation for Sale’,” wrote Greek political economist, C. J. Polychroniou.
Unsurprisingly, economic subservience is often a prelude to political bondage. Not only did Syriza betray the aspirations of the Greek people who voted against austerity and bailouts, it also betrayed the country’s legacy of maintaining amicable relationships with its neighbours.
Since his arrival at the helm of Greek politics, Tsipras has moved his country further into the Israeli camp, forging unwise regional alliances aimed at exploiting new gas finds in the Mediterranean and participating in multiple Israeli-led military drills.
While Israel sees an opportunity to advance its political agenda in Greece’s economic woes, the Greek government is playing along without fully assessing the possible repercussions of engaging with a country that is regionally viewed as a pariah, while internationally becoming condemned for its military occupation and terrible human rights record.
Israel moved to pull Athens into its own camp in 2010, shortly after the Turkish-Israeli spat over the Mavi Marmara attack ensued. Israeli commandos attacked the Turkish Gaza-bound boat, killing nine Turkish nationals and injuring many more.
Although Turkey and Israel have since then reached a diplomatic understanding, Tel Aviv has moved forward to create alternative allies among Balkan countries, exploiting historical conflicts between some of these countries and Turkey.
Bilateral agreements were signed, high diplomatic visits exchanged and military exercises conducted in the name of deterring ‘international jihad’ and fighting terrorism.
Just one month after the Mavi Marmara attack, the then Greek prime minister, George Papandrous, visited Israel, followed by an official, first- of-its-kind visit by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to Greece. That was the start of a love affair that is growing deeper.
The main motivation behind the closeness in relations is the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields, located in the territorial waters of several countries, including Lebanon. If Israel continues with its plans to extract gas from an energy source located off the coast of Lebanon, it will increase the chances of yet another regional war.
When Tsipras came to power on the shoulders of a populous political movement, Palestinians too hoped that he would be different.
It was not exactly wishful thinking, either — Syriza was openly critical of Israel and had “vowed to cut military ties with Israel upon coming to office,” wrote Patrick Strickland, reporting from Athens. Instead, the “ties have, nonetheless, been deepened.”
Indeed, soon after taking power, the ‘radical left’-led Greek government signed a major military agreement with Israel, the ‘status of forces’ accord, followed by yet more military exercises.
All of this was reinforced by a propaganda campaign in Israel hailing the new alliance, coupled with a changing narrative in Greek media regarding Israel and Palestine.
“This process [of converting Greeks to loving Israel] will take time, of course, because it is principally related to school education,” George N. Tzogopoulos wrote in Algemeiner. “But the change in coverage of Israel by Greek journalists is a good omen.”
That ‘change of coverage’ was also notable in the recent official visit by Israeli President Rivlin and his meeting with Tsipras and other Greek officials. In the meetings, Rivlin complained of Palestinian obstinacy and refusal to return to the ‘peace process’, thus causing a ‘serious crisis.’
The ‘radical left’ leader said little to challenge Rivlin’s views.
Greece was not always this way, of course. Who could forget Andreas Papandreou, the late Greek leader who gave the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) diplomatic status in 1981, and stood by Palestinians despite American and Israeli threats?
However, signing off to join an Israel-led economic and military alliance in an area replete with conflict, is a terribly irresponsible move, even for politically inexperienced and opportunistic politicians.
For Greece to be the “strong arm of imperialism in the region” — as described by the leader of the Socialist Workers Revolutionary Party in Greece – is “completely stupid” as it will, in the long run, bring “catastrophic results for (the) Greek people.”
But Tsipras seems incapable of looking that far ahead.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London).