Jerusalem kept mostly silent on the crisis building up in recent months.
By LAHAV HARKOV – The Jerusalem Post
The Foreign Ministry released a rare declarative statement that “Israel follows closely as tension arises in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Israel expresses its full support and solidarity with Greece in its maritime zones and its right to delimit its EEZ [exclusive economic zone],” the ministry stated.
The situation in the eastern Mediterranean will be at the top of the agenda.
The message came as Turkey sent naval ships into the eastern Mediterranean this week, saying they are meant to protect a research mission, surveying the continental shelf. The ships are in Greece’s EEZ.
Turkey claimed control of the area under the terms of an agreement it signed with Libya in November 2019, dividing large swaths of the eastern Mediterranean Sea between them, creating friction between Ankara and Athens. Last week, Greece and Egypt signed their own agreement, delineating their EEZs in the eastern Mediterranean, to Turkey’s consternation.
Greece and Israel have become close allies in recent years, working together on energy projects such as the EastMed pipeline, planned to be the longest in the world, which would go from Israel to the Greek mainland via Cyprus.
Though Greece lobbied its allies to make public statements of support and despite it being clear that Israel would prefer Greece in this situation, Jerusalem kept mostly silent on the crisis building up in recent months. While Greece is a friend, the government would prefer not to turn the poor relations with Turkey – Israel’s 10th-largest trading partner – into one of enmity.
Another reason for the long silence was timing; tensions would rise between Greece and Turkey, but go down within a matter of days.
The current crisis, however, seems to not have a quick solution.
In addition, the Turkey-Libya EEZ agreement means Ankara claims veto rights to the EastMed pipeline’s construction.
Gabriel Mitchell, Director of External Relations and a Policy Fellow at Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies – pointed out that the statement and Amrani-Dendias meeting comes as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has sought greater clarification of the situation in the eastern Mediterranean.
Mitchell also questioned Amrani’s meeting with Dendias as a “diplomatic gesture, or was there a specific message, either of support or an articulation of Israel’s limitations, that was shared with Greece?”
He warned that “the real risk here is that the actors miscalculate one another and there is an accident. Israel definitely doesn’t want that happening.”