(Bloomberg).Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes the first-ever visit by an Israeli premier to Greece as Israel’s ties with Turkey have soured after a May 31 naval commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla left nine Turks dead.
Netanyahu’s trip, which begins today, follows a visit to Israel last month by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. The Israeli leader is scheduled to meet Papandreou, President Karolos Papoulias and members of the Greek Jewish community.
Netanyahu’s visit comes less than three months after the deadly flotilla incident led Turkey, once considered Israel’s strongest ally in the region, to recall its ambassador and scale back military cooperation. In the wake of the naval raid, the Israeli leader’s visit to Athens is an opportunity to strengthen ties with another country in the eastern Mediterranean.
“For many years the Greeks were a little unhappy with the intensity of Israeli-Turkish relations,” said Shlomo Avineri, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a former director general of Israel’s foreign ministry. “Now, with relations with Turkey under a cloud the Greeks are a little more upfront about their relationship with Israel.”
Trade between the two countries was $522 million in 2008, falling to $496 million in 2009, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. During Papandreou’s visit, the two leaders pledged to work more closely on energy, tourism and agriculture.
Netanyahu’s visit shouldn’t be viewed though as an attempt to counter Turkey’s downgrading of its ties with the Jewish state by building a relationship with Greece, Israeli analysts say.
Netanyahu wants to improve Israel’s image abroad, said Alon Liel, another former foreign ministry director general. “Israel is not so popular these days so if you’re invited to go to visit a full member of the European Union like Greece, why not?” he said.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu, said the trip is intended to strengthen bilateral ties during a period of “new dynamism in Israeli-Greek relations.”
In an interview with The Associated Press on Mount Adir, a hill overlooking the border, an officer from the military’s Northern Command pointed through the summer haze at the village of Aita al-Shaab.The article goes on to quote a hapless UNIFIL officer, who grudgingly admits that UNIFIL are not allowed to search private property—which is where Hezbollah is putting the arms, tunnels, and fighters.
One of its southernmost buildings, a white structure housing mentally handicapped children, is a Hezbollah lookout post, the officer said. Several guerrilla command posts are in civilian buildings in the center of Aita al-Shaab, she said, with several dozen fighters able to move among houses through underground tunnels. The military would not allow her name to be used because of the sensitivity of her job.
The village also houses a network of warehouses holding arms trucked in from Iran via Syria, she said, some in stand-alone structures and some in smaller stashes in garages, basements and buried under backyards.
The officer said the guerrillas now have 5,000 fighters operating in the buffer zone between the border and the Litani River – a strip ranging from 5 kilometers to 30 kilometers (3 miles to 18 miles) wide – which is supposed to be free of militant activity under the 2006 cease-fire. In late 2009, Nasrallah said Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal stood at 30,000. Israel says it’s now about 40,000.
If you remember the 2006 Lebanon war, you will remember the world screaming for international observers instead of the IDF in Lebanon, insisting that the UN peacekeepers would prevent arms from being cached in southern Lebanon, and preventing Hezbollah from ever threatening Israel again.
Good job, guys!
And they wonder why Israel refuses to have international peacekeepers administer their borders with Hamas.