Cablegate: Joint Exerise Highlights Different Greek, Israeli
OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK
DE RUEHTH #0925/01 1791542
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 271542Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY ATHENS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2076
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 ATHENS 000925
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/27/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV GR IR IS
SUBJECT: JOINT EXERISE HIGHLIGHTS DIFFERENT GREEK, ISRAELI
MOTIVES IN CLOSER TIES
Classified By: DCM THOMAS COUNTRYMAN. REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D).
1. (S) In a June 25 conversation with DCM, PM Karamanlis'
diplomatic advisor Constantinos Bitsios confirmed that the
military exercise that took place in the eastern
Mediterranean over Greek airspace in early June and reported
in the NY Times June 20 was a joint Israeli-Greek exercise.
Bitsios expressed concern, however, about the leak of
information to the press on the exercise because public focus
on the issue would make closer Greek-Israeli relations more
difficult. (NOTE: The exercise, which apparently was
entitled "Glorious Spartan," has indeed received widespread
critical press in Greece following publication of the NY
Times article. END NOTE.) Bitsios said he wanted to move PM
Karamanlis closer to Israel, which Bitsios viewed as a
modern, stable democracy and potential partner for Greece.
There were many domestic political hurdles to strengthening
the relationship, however, and negative press complicated the
process. Bitsios also informed DCM of the upcoming visit of
Israeli DefMin Ehud Barak.
2. (S) On June 27, Israeli DCM Joseph Moustaki provided
DepPolCouns further details on the exercise and Israel's
strategic interests in Greece, particularly in regards to
Iran. Moustaki said his embassy was not heavily involved in
the planning for the exercise, which was coordinated by the
Israeli DATT who is stationed in Rome, and was informed only
a few days before the exercise began. (NOTE: This seems
unlikely, however, given official statements by the Hellenic
Air Force General Staff (HAFGS), which described several
advance planning meetings between the HAFGS and Israeli
military officials. END NOTE.) Moustaki said a similar
exercise, though on a somewhat smaller scale, had taken place
last year, but that time the Israelis had not informed the
Greeks, who were caught "completely off-guard." Last year's
exercise had also been preceded two weeks prior by Israeli
test firing of a sophisticated missile near Cyprus. These
two events had spooked the Greeks, led to several delegations
exchanging visits, and, ultimately, an apology by Israel.
The outcome of the incidents and discussions, however, was
better Israeli-Greek relations and a promise to coordinate
and cooperate on such exercises in the future.
3. (S) Moustaki confirmed that the exercise this June, which
involved 100-150 planes, indeed enjoyed better coordination
and cooperation. While officially a joint exercise, the
Greeks were interested primarily in practicing in-flight
refueling because they did not have their own tanker
aircraft. The exercise was not confined to the southern
Aegean but went "all over Greece" as far north as Larissa.
Greece was practically Israeli's only venue for such an
exercise because they could not fly to the south or east.
Moustaki claimed not to know the precise motivation behind
conducting the exercise now, but speculated that the Israeli
and, perhaps, U.S. governments had learned that Iran had
recently made some technical advance in its nuclear
production activities and the exercise was a way to signal
that we knew what they had done and were watching.
Alternatively, Israel perhaps simply wanted to show Iran that
it had the capability to strike Iran, if necessary.
4. (S) On the July 1 visit to Greece by Israeli DefMin Barak,
Moustaki noted that Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen
was also scheduled to visit Greece June 30. Barak officially
was coming to attend a meeting of the Socialist International
(of which Greek opposition party PASOK Chairman Papandreou is
currently president), but he would also meet with PM
Karamanlis, FM Bakoyannis, and DefMin Meimarakis. Moustaki
said he was recommending few statements to the press on
Barak's meetings. This would foster ambiguity and suspicion
on the part of the Iranians, as well as the Arabs. "We want
to nourish Iranian suspiciousness of the Greeks," he noted,
making the point that Israel did not trust Greece in its
stated attempts to serve as a "bridge" between East and West.
The Arabs did not trust Greece either, he argued. "They
talk about being a bridge, but they never seem to deliver
anything." Finally, Moustaki noted Israel's wariness of
selling weapons systems to the Greeks. The Greeks were very
interested in sophisticated Israeli weaponry, but Israel was
concerned that what it could provide the Greeks -- given
their growing closeness to Moscow -- might leak to the
Russians, who would in turn provide it to the Iranians.
5. (S) COMMENT: Israel and Greece each has its own motives in
strengthening ties, but there are also tough obstacles to
improved relations. Israel opened its embassy in Athens in
2001 and conducting joint military exercises now is a good
indication that Israel's relations with this old EU-15
member-state are maturing. By strengthening ties with Greece
and conducting joint exercises, Israel might also help create
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the ambiguity in Iranian minds it craves. At the same time,
Greece's oft-stated desire to be a "bridge" between the
Iranians (and Arabs) and the West, as well as its recent
moves toward Russia coupled with endemic corruption in arms
deals, lessens Greece's attractiveness as a partner for
Israel. From the Greek perspective, closer ties with Israel
help strengthen their credentials as a go-between in the
region and might help deflect criticism for Greece's
footdragging on Iran sanctions. But there is long-standing
opposition to improving ties with Israel in large segments of
the traditionally pro-Palestinian Greek population. It would
be particularly difficult for the GOG to weather the storm
created by an Israeli attack on Iran, which the Karamanlis
government could (justifiably) be seen as having aided with
the latest joint military exercise.