In a sign of growing ties, the Israeli and Greek air forces have held a fourteen-day cooperative drill at Greece’s Larisa Air Base. Joint drill participants included several elite Israeli squadrons, the IDF’s top rescue unit, and their equivalents in the Greek military.
The exercise took place as Greece has been working to stop the second Gaza flotilla from leaving its ports for Gaza. As reported in a recent post by Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz, Greek authorities arrested the captain of one boat several days ago for failing to ensure that the boat had proper safety equipment. More recently, the Greeks proposed a compromise, accepted by the Israeli government, which would involve the Greek government transporting the flotilla’s aid to Gaza under UN supervision.
These may be signs that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to strengthen the relationship between the two countries have paid off. To counterbalance last year’s decline in the Turkish-Israeli partnership, Netanyahu invited Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to Israel last summer, and soon after became the first sitting Israeli leader to visit Greece. On an economic level, Greece has benefited since last summer’s flotilla affair drove a wedge between Israel and Turkey, as many Israeli tourists decided to vacation in Greece instead of Turkey, a once popular holiday location. Netanyahu has also lobbied the European Union and International Monetary Fund recently, encouraging them to approve a multi-billion dollar economic bailout for Greece, which currently faces a debt-driven economic crisis.