By Ramzy Baroud
For a brief moment, Alexis Tsipras and his political party, Syriza, ignited hope that Greece could resurrect a long-dormant leftist tide in Europe. A new Greece was being born out of the pain of the economic austerity imposed by the European Union and its institutions — a troika so ruthless it cared little while the Greek economy collapsed and millions of people experienced the bitterness of poverty, unemployment and despair.
The Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) came to power in January 2015 as a direct result of popular discontent with the EU. The result, however, was quite disappointing. Tsipras, now a Prime Minister, transformed his political discourse and gradually adopted one that is more consistent with the very neoliberal policies that pushed his country to its knees in the first place. Syriza sold out — not only politically and ideologically, but in an actual physical sense as well.
In exchange for bailout loans that Greece received from European banks between 2010 and 2015 (estimated at more than $240 billion), the country is being dismembered. Greece’s regional airports are now operated by German companies and the country’s main telecommunications firm has been privatized, with 40 percent of it owned by Deutsche Telekom. “The only thing missing outside the office of Greece’s privatization agency is a sign that reads: ‘A nation for sale’.”
Economic subservience is also often a prelude to political bondage. Not only did Syriza betray the aspirations of the Greek people who voted against austerity and bailouts, it also betrayed the country’s long legacy of maintaining amicable relationships with its neighbors. Since his arrival at the helm of Greek politics, Tsipras has moved his country further into the Israeli camp, forging unwise regional alliances aimed at exploiting gas finds in the Mediterranean and participating in multiple Israeli-led military drills.
While Israel sees an opportunity to advance its political agenda in Greece’s economic woes, the Greek government is playing along without fully assessing the potential repercussions of engaging with a country that is regionally viewed as a pariah, while internationally becoming condemned for its military occupation and terrible human rights record.
Israel moved to pull Athens into its own camp in 2010, shortly after the Turkish-Israeli spat over the Mavi Marmara attack, when Israeli commandos attacked the Gaza-bound boat, killing nine Turkish nationals and injuring many more. Although Turkey and Israel have since reached a diplomatic understanding, Tel Aviv has created alternative allies among the Balkan countries, exploiting historical conflicts between Turkey and some of these nations.
Greece and Cyprus received the greatest Israeli attention. Just one month after the Mavi Marmara attack, the then-Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou visited Israel. This was followed by an official visit to Greece by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — the first of its kind. It was the start of a love affair that is growing deeper.
The main motivation behind the closeness in relations is the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields, located in the territorial waters of several countries, including Lebanon. If Israel continues with its plans to extract gas from an energy source located off the coast of Lebanon, it will increase the chances of yet another regional war.
When Tsipras came to power on the shoulders of a populist political movement, Palestinians also hoped that he would be different. It was not exactly wishful thinking, either. Syriza was openly critical of Israel and had “vowed to cut military ties with Israel upon coming to office,” Patrick Strickland, reporting from Athens. Instead, the “ties have nonetheless been deepened.”
Indeed, soon after taking power, the “radical left” Greek government signed a major military agreement with Israel — the “status of forces” accord — followed by yet more military exercises. All of this was reinforced by a propaganda campaign in Israel hailing the new alliance, coupled with a changing narrative in Greek media regarding Israel and Palestine.
One George N. Tzogopoulos has been particularity buoyant about the Israel-Greek friendship. Writing a series of articles in various media, including right-wing Israeli newspaper the Jerusalem Post, Tzogopoulos suggests that, unlike the older generation of Greeks who have in the past sided with Palestinians, the young generation is likely to be pro-Israel. “This process (of converting Greeks to favoring Israel) will take time, of course, because it is principally related to school education,” he wrote in the US-based Algemeiner Journal. “But the change in coverage of Israel by Greek journalists is a good omen.”
That “change of coverage” was also notable in the recent official visit by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and his meetings with Tsipras and other Greek officials. In the meetings, Rivlin complained of Palestinian obstinacy and refusal to return to the “peace process,” thus causing a “serious crisis.” Greece’s “radical left” leader said little to challenge Rivlin’s falsehoods.
Greece was not always this way, of course. Who could forget Andreas Papandreou, the late Greek leader who gave the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) diplomatic status in 1981 and stood by Palestinians despite American and Israeli threats? It is that generation that Tzogopoulos and his ilk would like to be gone forever and replaced by morally flexible leaders like Tsipras. However, signing off to join an Israel-led economic and military alliance in an area replete with conflict is a terribly irresponsible move, even for politically inexperienced and opportunistic politicians.
For Greece to be the “strong arm of imperialism in the region” — as described by Savas Michael-Matsas, the leader of the socialist Workers’ Revolutionary Party in Greece — is “completely stupid” as it will, in the long run, bring “catastrophic results for (the) Greek people.” Tsipras, however, seems incapable of looking that far ahead.