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BILIRAKIS AND DEUTCH: Hellenic-Israeli partnership strengthens democracy

Alliance merits U.S. support and recognition

- - Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Eastern Mediterranean is transforming, and partnerships are being formed to reflect the changing geopolitical reality. The United States should support and recognize the region’s blossoming Hellenic-Israeli partnership, which could be transformative for the respective nations and the international community of democratic stakeholders.

Together, Cyprus, Greece and Israel will help strengthen our shared democratic values in the region. The countries’ strategic location, natural resources and intellectual capital bring issues, such as economic development, energy production and counterterrorism, to the forefront. 

Therefore, it is no accident the Hellenic-Israeli region has seen a flurry of bilateral diplomatic activity surrounding the enhanced alliance. Most notably, within the last year, the Israeli president, prime minister and foreign minister have each made visits to Athens. Optimistic agendas around issues, including strategic defense, energy and knowledge transfer, have emerged out of these summits that will, with U.S. involvement, strengthen political, military and energy security – not just in the Eastern Mediterranean, but across the globe. They will also provide a buffer against internal and external threats in Israel, Cyprus and Greece.

The increasing threat of a nuclear Iran, the implications of the Arab Spring, the potential for natural gas pipelines in Cyprus and Israel, and the hope of mutually beneficial economic activities have initiated new cooperation between these nations. 

In April 2012, the United States, Greece and Israel concluded “Noble Dina,” their first joint naval exercise. Greece’s inclusion is indicative of the growing strategic relationship between the United States and these allies. In the course of this exercise, all three nations contributed aircraft and warships to conduct joint missions in the region.

Energy collaboration is also an area of great potential for the Cypriot-Greek-Israeli partnership. Capitalizing on the anticipated growth of jointly produced hydrocarbon resources might shift demand from other potentially volatile energy sources. Israel could enjoy enhanced security through the new relationship, as its current energy supply is particularly threatened by instability in the region.

If Hellenic-Israeli energy cooperation flourishes, it could also help improve the economies of Greece and Cyprus. The countries are showing great cooperation in the areas of technology sharing and entrepreneurship. Last spring, Greece and Israel signed an accord to share information surrounding key issues, including agriculture, waste management and water treatment. Greece has also recognized Israel’s successes in many areas of innovation. Working in closer cooperation and more harmoniously with Israel’s entrepreneurial culture, Greece could experience a new wave of economic development.

However, it isn’t solely in matters of finance and state that the new friendship is manifesting itself. Greece has recently enjoyed increased numbers of Israeli tourists, many of whom used to spend their international vacations elsewhere. 

The new partnership between the Hellenic World and Israel is cause for optimism and offers benefits to the world disproportionate to the size of the nations involved. Close geographic proximity and shared commitment to democracy have the potential to contribute significantly to global defense and economic security. These things merit great attention by U.S. policymakers, the media and the public.

It is for this reason we have founded the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance as a forum to encourage recognition of these developments. Through the Alliance, we hope to highlight how the relationships between these countries and the United States are critical to maintaining economic stability and national security.

Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis is a Florida Republican. Rep. Ted Deutch is a Florida Democrat.