Three democracies in the Eastern Mediterranean have come under pressure from an increasingly aggressive Turkey aiming to expand and consolidate its regional influence. Distinguished by their Western affiliations in an explosive part of the Islamic world and by a geographic proximity that may constitute an eventual advantage, these three countries are Israel, Greece, and the Republic of Cyprus.
They are also beset by political and, in two cases, critical economic problems. Greece and Cyprus, both members of the European Union, have become fiscal basket cases mired in entitlement addiction, redistributive economics, and unsustainable debt, teetering on the cusp of systemic bankruptcy. Having unwisely practiced a form of bureaucratic and fiduciary socialism, compounded by toxic banking practices, they now find themselves constantly in need of bailouts from the major European financial institutions and moneylending consortiums — the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund — for which they will have to pay in the tainted coin of unpopular austerity measures, tax clawbacks, and banking levies on depositors. Capital flight is inevitable. Political unrest is a given.
Israel, by comparison, is an economic powerhouse, one of the few Western nations that have managed to weather the economic downturn of the last years, thanks to competent leadership and a vibrant technological and entrepreneurial sector. But Israel suffers from many impairments and detriments: a fractured political system, with over a dozen parties acrimoniously contending for representation in the Knesset, leading to largely unstable political coalitions; virulent terrorist entities on its borders; a subversive leftist intelligentsia and academic fifth column; energy dependence on an avowed enemy, Egypt (in addition to the misfortune that the pipeline running through the Sinai Peninsula is regularly sabotaged by Palestinian terrorists); and an American president intent on shriveling the country to its “Auschwitz borders” — a White House map released on the eve of the president’s recent visit to Israel shows the Golan Heights as Syrian, northern Israel as part of Lebanon, and Jerusalem as part of the West Bank.
But there is good news too, in particular on the energy front, which promises economic relief, energy independence from foreign hydrocarbons, and, as a result, a more viable and resilient political situation. Two vast natural gas fields, dubbed Leviathan and Tamar, have been discovered roughly 80 miles off the coast of Israel, to be developed in collaboration with Cyprus, which stands to benefit from its own Aphrodite plot, with a view to exporting the product in combination with international companies. This project would involve Greece as well since, aside from the extraction of its own reserves in the south Aegean, one purported export route would run overland through Greece toward European markets, thus bypassing Turkey.
As Aristomenis Syngros, chairman of the Invest in Greece Agency, remarks in the Jerusalem Post, “The development of Greece-Israel relations is a cause for great satisfaction and offers the potential for wide-ranging synergies, win-win partnerships and significant bilateral advantages. The two countries, though small in size, can have a big impact on regional development.” Apart from areas for cooperation relating to “water management, organic farming, applied farm research, land improvement and aquiculture,” the new energy nexus may serve “as one of the most meaningful anchors of the Greek-Israel relationship.” Syngros concludes that “during this time of local, regional and global challenges, new strategic partnerships that harness competitive advantages … remain key priorities.”