Alan Solow: Greece-Israel ties ‘here to stay'
By George Gilson

FOR OVER half a century, whenever the American Jewish community is to speak with the US government, it has been mainly through the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations (CoP), an umbrella group of 52 national groups, from the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby and the American Jewish Congress to religious-oriented groups.  “When the conference speaks, it does so on behalf of the entire Jewish community,” said conference chairman Alan Solow.

The CoP's decision to come to Greece on its annual trip is a strong sign of the importance of Greece-Israel ties. In an interview with the Athens News, Solow, a Chicago lawyer and friend of Barrack Obama's, says the rapidly growing Greece-Israel cooperation is here to stay, and that is not contingent on strained Israel-Turkey ties. Solow says that cooperation between the Greek and Jewish lobbies is developing well. 

Athens News: Why is the CoP visiting Greece and why now?

Alan Solow:
In view of the increasingly warm relationship of the Greek and Israeli governments, it is an appropriate visit. When we met with Prime Minister Papandreou last September in New York, it occurred to us that it might be an appropriate time to come.

 

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Papandreou was quite positive on Israel-Greece relations and thought there were opportunities for economic and strategic cooperation that would help both sides. We discussed Greece's economic situation and how it might affect Greece's ties with the EU and Europe, and its status as a player in the international arena.

Can Jewish Americans involved in the banking sector assist Greece? As US citizens and due to our concern for Israel, we have an interest in the health of the international economy. A stable economic system is good for both those interests. The more we can share with our colleagues about how we can be helpful, the better the chances are that people will make a constructive contribution.

What's your agenda for talks with Greek leaders? We'll discuss current Greece-Israel relations and the regional situation. We want to hear the Greek perspective on recent developments in Tunisia and Egypt. We want to learn about the economic issues facing Greece, and how the government sees its relations with the US government. 

How will the situation in Egypt affect the broader Middle East? Fear that a more radical element could take power in Egypt is a very legitimate concern. It is incumbent on the international community to behave in a way that will encourage a government that retains good relations with the West and Israel to prevail in Egypt. A radicalised Egypt would be destabilising for the region and the world. It is very important that Egypt was the first country to reach a peace treaty with Israel - it has been good for Israel, Egypt, the US and the world. 

Are there prospects for closer cooperation between the Greek and Jewish lobbies in the US? The notion that there is a Jewish lobby per se is a bit overblown. There are opportunities for a greater exchange of information between the Jewish American and the Greek American communities. In the last few months, I met with friends and leaders in the Greek American community to see if we can help each other address issues that each of our communities face.

How important is the Greece-Israel defence cooperation? As somebody who is interested in Israel remaining a strong country, I think it needs as many friends throughout the world as it can get, particularly in the region. Greece is an important player, and that type of defence and strategic cooperation is important to Israel, and, with the strength and expertise of the Israeli military, it would also be attractive to Greece.

Do Greece and Israel see eye to eye on Iran? I think Greece wants to be helpful on the Iran issue. We discussed with Prime Minister Papandreou the importance of stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability. We urged him, as other leaders, to be more outspoken and tougher on sanctions. 

What about energy cooperation? The Leviathan natural gas find is promising for Israel and the whole region. We want to hear from our friends in Greece and then Israel what will be the best economic-strategic way to benefit from these finds. There are potential advantages to cooperation in exploring, bringing in investors and [pursuing] pipelines.

Might Greek-Israeli ties, as some think, be a marriage of convenience until Israel-Turkey relations improve? Government leaders I've spoken to in Israel reject that and say the ties with Greece are completely independent of Turkey. Israeli leaders say they are in it for the long haul. We should continue down that path. 

How does Turkey's neo-Ottoman policy affect the Mideast? To the extent that Turkey leans to the East rather than West and associates itself with more radical elements in the region - that threatens stability. That Turkey, as a UN Security Council member, did not vote for the latest round of sanctions against Iran is very disturbing. 

Source: Athens News



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