What happened: Israel and Greece have signed their biggest ever defence procurement deal.
- The agreement includes a NIS 5.5 billion (£1.21bn) contract for the establishment and operation of a training centre for the Hellenic Air Force by Israeli defence contractor Elbit Systems over a 22-year period.
- Defence Minister Benny Gantz said: “This cooperation agreement rests on the excellence of Israel’s defence industry and the strong relations between the defence establishments of Greece and Israel … I am certain that this programme will upgrade the capabilities and strengthen the economies of Israel and Greece and thus the partnership between our two countries will deepen on the defence, economic and political levels.”
- Within the framework of the agreement, Elbit Systems will provide kits to upgrade and operate the Hellenic Air Force’s T-6 aircraft. Elbit will also provide training, simulators and logistical support.
- The training centre will be based on Israel’s flight academy and will be equipped with 10 M-346 training aircraft produced by Italian company Leonardo.
Context: The deal has been described by a senior defence official as a “strategic partnership” and “one of the most significant defence agreements to date”.
- The announcement yesterday followed the first meeting in Cyprus on Friday of the regional-strategic forum between the UAE, Greece, Cyprus and Israel.
- Representing the UAE was Anwar Gargash, the former UAE foreign minister who signed the Abraham Accord last year, who now serves as diplomatic advisor to President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed. Gargash said: “The Abrahamic accords were mainly driven by the necessity of an alternative strategic view of the region based on stability, prosperity and opportunity.”
- Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said: “In the earliest stages of the Abraham Accords, we already spoke of the prosperity and stability that would spread throughout the entire Middle East as a result, and today we are expanding the circle of prosperity and stability towards the Eastern Mediterranean. Today, we are embarking on a new path of regional cooperation with the aim of turning our vision of cooperation into a reality that will improve the lives of our citizens.”
- Cypriot Foreign Minister and host Nikos Christodoulides said: “The evolving web of regional cooperation is creating a new narrative, one that is cracking the glass ceiling of the prevailing (one) of our neighbourhood as a region of turmoil, conflict and crisis.”
- The foreign ministers discussed opportunities for promoting regional projects in the fields of energy, tourism, and the fight against coronavirus.
- They also discussed regional issues and the countries’ shared interests in the face of challenges to regional stability.
- Israel has steadily forged closer ties with Greece and Cyprus. The three countries are partners in the East Med pipeline project, which hopes to export natural gas to Europe.
- Last year they formed East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) that also includes, Egypt, Italy, Jordan and the Palestine Authority.
- In 2020, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi hosted the Chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff, Gen. Konstantinos Floros, where the two discussed operational developments in the region and deepening military cooperation.
Looking ahead: In the future, Israel and Greece will also consider areas of cooperation between the Israeli flight academy and Hellenic Airforce Academy.
- There is hope and expectation that this regional forum will continue its dialogue and to hold more meetings in the future.
- The four countries will also be exploring the possibility of opening ‘green corridors’ to encourage tourism between the countries.