Israeli ambassador to ANA-MPA: Greece playing key role in East Med region

The prospects of Greek-Israeli relations are “very good”, Israel’s ambassador to Greece Yossi Amrani told Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA) in an interview on the sidelines of the Thessaloniki Summit 2021 published Saturday that also noted Greece’s contribution to them, consequently helping East Mediterranean security and prosperity.

In the interview, the ambassador also pointed out the country’s role in efforts like the East Mediterranean Gas Forum that build both on energy differentiation and opportunities for countries, including European ones, to strengthen relations in the region.

Ambassador Amrani also expressed confidence that there is “good will” in terms of starting construction on the Holocaust Museum of Thessaloniki, and the start is “a question of months”. Asked to comment on anti-Semitism phenomena in Greece, he said he worries more about the lack of education, as “70-plus years after the Holocaust peoples’ memory is too short and ignorance is so wide,” and hopes the future Museum may contribute to changing this.

‘Greece a friendly country’

Speaking on bilateral relations, Amrani said, “The prospects are very good. I am very optimistic about the relationship and I would definitely give credit to the Greek government for its efforts to intensify, strengthen, deepen the relationship between the two countries,” explaining that he sees significant progress on all aspects of bilateral relationship and regional relationship, as well as on trilateral level. “Plus, Greece is a friendly country, Greece is a neighboring country,” he said. “We see eye to eye on many issues and if in the past the focus of the relationship has been defense and joint military drills, you see now an intensification of exchanges between the two countries.”

On this, the ambassador cited the fact that within the last 3.5 months, the two foreign ministers of Israel and Greece met twice in Israel, once in Brussels, once in Washington, besides exchanging WhatsApp and phone calls, a significant indication to the closeness of the relationship. “The very fact that we can pick up the phone and discuss issues of concern to either country – we share our concerns, you share your concerns – and we are trying to be helpful to one another, this is a certain peak and I would give credit to Prime Minister [Kyriakos] Mitsotakis, to Foreign Minister [Nikos] Dendias, to Defense Minister [Nikos] Panagiotopoulos – and excuse me for not going through the list of government ministers,” Amrani added.

Israel’s ambassador also noted “openness and good will” in bilateral relations, even in emergency situations and crisis management: “The moment a fire started in Israel, [State] Minister [George] Gerapetritis called me and offered support, we extended support to Greece upon your needs.” In addition, one of the goals of the new minister for climate crisis, Christos Stylianides, was to upgrade the relationship and cooperate regionally and with Israel on climate change. “So, the Greek government – and I am a great advocate of its policies on these issues – see the region as a whole and it is trying to develop a strategy which will be good for Greece and good for the other countries,” the ambassador noted.

Greece’s ‘huge contribution’ to regional cooperation

Greece and Israel also developed a tradition, he said, of joint military drills with Greece and with other countries. He cited the Andravida or Cyprus (‘Nemesis’) exercises. On the latter, Amrani commented, “You were there, the Egyptians were there. Just imagine that through this Hellenic alliance which you are promoting, countries feel comfortable to cooperate with one another. And I don’t need to name the countries. So I see a huge contribution of Greece and its good contacts with Israel and its good contacts with the Arab countries in bringing more balance, security and prosperity to the region.”

The ambassador further called as a potential ‘win-win’ the closer relationship Greece can cultivate with the Arab world. “It’s good for Greece, it’s good for the Arab world and it’s good for Israel,” he noted, adding that “through cooperating with Greece we can achieve a level of regional cooperation like with the ΕMGF (East Mediterranean Gas Forum).” The EMGF he said is a regional gas forum, “very popular by countries which are not necessarily Mediterranean countries and are knocking on the door and would like to be accepted into the EMGF. This is a direct investment in the strategic relevance of a country.”

Energy independence and diversification of national security interest

Speaking of the energy sector, Israel’s ambassador underlined that “energy independence for any country or energy diversity is a national security interest.” The regional cooperation on gas and energy, the EMGF, “allows Europe to diversify its resources.” As he explaiend, it “allows Europe to strengthen relationship with Mediterranean countries, Egypt and Israel, and gives Greece a major leverage to diversify its economy to play a more important role in European energy market and to be an entrance point to Europe for Mediterranean energy.”

‘Abraham Accords’ a ‘strategic game changer’ for Israel

The Israeli ambassador also made special note of the Abraham Accords, describing them as “a strategic game changer for Israel”, which opened the door to a close relationship it has with some of the Gulf countries in a great dynamic for both sides. In particular, he said, the exchange of visits during recent months between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is very impressive, along with follow-up bilateral agreements. He noted particular the UAE’s interest in the Haifa port, and Greece’s close relationship with the Arab country.

‘There is good will’ in Holocaust Museum project

On the project of the Museum of the Holocaust in Thessaloniki and the prospect of works starting soon, Ambassador Amrani expressed the believe “there is good will” and said that “it is a question of months before we see work happening.”

“Being Jewish means never giving up hope and being an Israeli means that you believe in miracles. So I wouldn’t give up hope and I believe in miracles. I think that there is good will,” the ambassador said.

“I will start by saying that there is a need for a Holocaust Memorial, a Holocaust Museum in Greece and nowhere else than in Thessaloniki. Because this is the center of Jewish life for hundreds and hundreds of years and the tragedy of Holocaust is awful anywhere and also here. There is good will on behalf of the [Thessaloniki] mayor and the President of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki and KIS Mr [David] Saltiel. There is good will on behalf of the government. The Prime Minister himself, as far as I know, is personally involved, personally interested. Deputy Prime Minister [Panagiotis] Pikrammenos is running the effort.”

In terms of the timetable, “I think that we are making progress regarding the design, regarding the zoning, regarding the permits and I think that it is a question of months before we see work happening. Am I optimistic? I think I am realistic because I know how important it is to everyone. We need to overcome certain difficulties. I am not saying that all difficulties have been resolved. There are some. But the direction is very clear and we are moving in the right direction. But it calls for good will from all partners. I must say that the government is fully behind it.”

Worried about anti-Semitism, ‘but more about lack of education’

Asked whether he is concerned about anti-Semitism phenomena in Greece, Ambassador Amrani said that “everyone should be worried of anti-Semitism. Not because it poses an immediate threat at a specific moment. Because it proves ignorance, it proves bigotism, it proves lack of education. There is a need to educate.”

The Museum, once erected in Thessaloniki, would help educate people on what happened. “I am not concerned of a specific anti-Semitic incident. I am concerned that 70-plus years after the Holocaust peoples’ memory is too short and ignorance is so wide. Am I concerned about anti-Semitism? Yes, but I am more concerned about the lack of education.”

Thessaloniki Summit 2021 is organized by the Federation of Industries of Greece (SBE), in cooperation with Delphi Economic Forum, and Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA) is a media sponsor.