April 7, 2013
“We Expect Antonis Samaras at the AJC Global Forum in Washington in June”
By Despina Syriopoulou
NOTE: Ependytis, the top financial newspaper in Greece, published in its popular Saturday edition a full-page interview with AJC Executive David Harris, including his photo, bio and information about AJC. It is the latest in a series of regular interviews with Harris in Greek media. The original Ependytis article, in Greek, is available here. English translation is below.
E: How do you view the latest developments in the rapprochement between Turkey and Israel? What do you expect from Turkey?
DH: We view this as a positive development not only in the bilateral context, but also for the region. It is “normal” and “natural” for Israel and Turkey to be exchanging ambassadors and, whether agreeing on everything or not, talking to one another in a constructive fashion.
E:The Jerusalem Post editorial on the Israeli-Turkish rapprochement mentioned that the vital question is not "what happened" but "what to do next, and how to accomplish it?" How do you expect this rapprochement to develop?
DH: I believe it will likely be incremental. In other words, there will not be a sudden return to the “good old days” of close cooperation between Ankara and Jerusalem in many areas. Two obvious issues that will likely receive early attention are Syria and energy.
E: Could you talk about an Israeli-Turkish strategic dialogue and in which areas? Or, is time needed to rebuild confidence?
DH: Both Israel and Turkey are profoundly affected by the unfolding tragedy in Syria, so this is a good place to begin any strategic dialogue. Apart from the sheer human toll, both countries want to know who will be in charge in Damascus in the months ahead and how that will affect relations on their immediate borders. They are also concerned about whether Syria will, in fact, remain a unitary state or fragment into enclaves. And, of course, with such an advanced arsenal of biological and chemical weapons and missile systems, what happens to them in Syria is a matter of utmost concern to both Ankara and Jerusalem.
E:During the last few years Israel’s relations with Greece and Cyprus were, and still are, very warm. How do you see this relationship developing in the future?
DH: I continue to be very optimistic about the future of Cypriot-Greek-Israeli relations. This is a goal which we have long sought and are happy to see increasingly realized. These are three democratic countries with overlapping interests, from energy to tourism, from economic development to security.
E:Regarding Greek-Israeli relations, do you see the new government of Prime Minister Netanyahu strengthening or "freezing" them because of the improvement in Turkish-Israeli relations?
DH: I cannot for a moment imagine any Israeli leader seeking to “freeze” Greek-Israeli cooperation, far from it. That bilateral relationship is built on its own intrinsic value to both countries, which is considerable and in no way changes as a result of any new developments with Turkey. Let me add that for AJC the link with Greece also remains critically important, which is why we are so pleased that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will be our guest in Washington at the AJC Global Forum in June. We also expect to have many friends from the Greek-American community join us for this special occasion, though, sadly, one cherished partner, Andy Athens, will be missing because of his death earlier this year.
E: Given the fact that Israel has a very active role in the Middle East, how do you see the near future in the region, especially with respect to Egypt, Syria and Iran?
DH: It would be impossible at this point to predict the future of the Middle East with any degree of confidence, except to say that instability, uncertainty and risk are all heightened for the foreseeable future. In turn, this has potentially profound implications for Israel, where increased vigilance will be required, but also for countries like Greece. Take migration as one example. The more political and economic turbulence in the region, the more likely it is that people will try to reach Europe. Of course, for many migrants, Greece is seen as the first point of entry. Or take Iran. Should it succeed in acquiring nuclear-weapons capability, would it trigger other countries in the region, including Turkey, to consider nuclear programs of their own? If so, what would be the consequences for Cyprus and Greece, indeed for the European Union of which both Nicosia and Athens are member states?