Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras met in Israel with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on October 8, 2013 in the first Israeli-Greek government-to-government meeting. During the meeting in which 10 agreements were signed, Netanyahu praised Samaras for his crackdown on the Greek Neo-Nazi faction Golden Dawn.
The two nations also discussed building pipelines between Israel, Cyprus and Greece, which would pump oil from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe. This move may sideline any potential peace talks between Turkey and the EU regarding the Cyprus issue.
In his remarks, the Israeli Prime Minister said he was inspired by a common history of friendship and recalled the heroic story of the survival of the Jews of Zakynthos during the Holocaust as a prime example of this common bond.
A short film is currently in the production by the Greek America Foundation entitled “No Man is an Island” about the story of the Zakynthos Jews and is expected to be released later in 2014.
The timing of the reaffirmation of Greek-Israeli ties comes amid an increase in neo-nazi activity in Greece.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s full remarks follow:
We speak one language, the language of friendship. So it’s in this spirit of friendship that I welcome Prime Minister Samaras, my friend Antonis. It is an honor to welcome you here, with Deputy Premier Venizelos and your ministers for this intergovernmental meeting between the Government of Greece and the Government of Israel.
Greece and Israel are two countries with long and rich histories.Our joint contribution to the ancient world laid the foundations of Western civilization. We were sitting upstairs and we were looking outside the window and I said: this is ancient Jerusalem. When I was in Athens I saw the Acropolis, I said the Acropolis, Athens and Jerusalem are the foundations of Western civilization. I say that unabashedly.
Foundations and Western civilization. These are immense contributions.
Today we are two modern Western democracies committed to progress and democracy and prosperity. And as two Middle Eastern, or I would say Eastern Mediterranean neighbors, we seek peace and stability throughout our region.
We are friends. We are allies. We take pride in it.
I have watched over the last few years and participated obviously in the expansion of our relations, our cooperation has strengthened, and the agreements we have just signed show clearly the scope and diversity of the areas in which we cooperate: energy, science, technology, culture, education, youth exchanges, public safety and fighting crime, maritime transportation and tourism.
A lot of tourism. I take pride in having said on a visit to Greece that we will have within two years 400,000 tourists. I think we’ve met that target. We intend to increase it. And I think every Israeli that goes to Greece, and every Greek citizen that comes to Israel is an ambassador of this growing friendship.
I think it makes both our countries stronger. We need to be strong, both to assure the future of our countries and also to protect peace. The greatest threat to peace and security of the region and of our world is Iran’s pursuit of its nuclear weapons program. Iran’s presidents might change, but that country’s nuclear program continues to expand. That is because the real leader of Iran, the real ruler of Iran, the so-called Supreme Leader, is committed to getting nuclear weapons.
And unfortunately, the only tangible result from the P5+1 talks, the five countries that have been talking with Iran, talks that have been resumed a year and a half ago, the only tangible result of the P5+1 is that Iran has managed to buy more time and to advance in this time its program to develop nuclear weapons.
In parallel, the Iranian regime continues to plan and conduct terrorism across the globe, including an attempt through its own agencies and its proxies in various countries in Europe: an attempt in Cyprus, a successful murder, unfortunately, in Bulgaria, terrorism across the globe. This is what Iran continues to do today, and in Syria it participates in the mass murder of tens of thousands of men, women and children.
Today, the Iranian regime seeks a partial agreement that will ease the sanctions, these sanctions have greatly hurt the Iranian economy. Of course what they want is merely the relaxation of sanctions without the real cessation of Iran’s program to develop military nuclear capability. That is unacceptable. The sanctions must be continued, they must be strengthened until the Iranian military nuclear program is dismantled.
What does it require, to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program? It requires ending enrichment and ending the plutonium route. There are many countries that have civilian nuclear energy. I met yesterday with the President of the Czech Republic.
They have nuclear energy. They have many reactors. But they don’t have heavy water plutonium reactors, which are only used for weapons, and they don’t have centrifuges for enrichment, because that’s what you need to make weapons.
What does Iran insist on? Centrifuges for enrichment and plutonium reactors. They don’t need it and they shouldn’t have it. A regime that has violated every UN resolution, that participates in mass murder in Syria, that continues terrorism around the world, doesn’t have a right to enrich. Especially since it’s very clear that they are seeking nuclear weapons.
So, I think that there’s nothing wrong with diplomacy if it achieves a good deal. But a bad deal is worse than no deal. And a bad deal is a partial deal that removes the sanctions, or most of them, and leaves Iran with the capacity to enrich uranium and pursue the plutonium route to nuclear bombs.
I believe that this is understood more broadly, more deeply in the international community than is commonly thought, and I think this should be the position of the international community, because Iran’s nuclear weapons program must be stopped.
Mr. Prime Minister, I want to take this opportunity to commend you and your colleagues on the way you’ve handled Greece’s economic crisis. I think you’ve shown leadership, you’ve shown solidarity, a great deal of courage and wisdom to act, to do the right thing, even though it’s unpopular, even though it’s difficult, and I think, from everything that I can see from my vantage point, that the markets understand that something has happened, something good has happened in Greece.
I encourage Israeli investors, Israeli business people to go and invest in Greece. It’s probably a very good deal. If you’ve turned the corner and people, as I believe you have, and people understand it, then their investments are worth a lot. At this stage.
Tomorrow, everybody will understand it, but the smart money should be going to Greece now, as the smart money should be going to Israel, always because [inaudible] all the time. And as I say, I think our cooperation is the best thing. We have many things that we can cooperate on.
I think it’s a win-win proposition for both our countries. Second, I want to commend you, Prime Minister, on your government’s resolute opposition to neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism and racism. You have taken important steps, courageous steps that demonstrate clearly that Greece is a land of tolerance and freedom.
I was deeply moved in my last visit to Greece by the story of the Island of Zakynthos. During World War II, the Nazi commanders demanded a list of some 250 Jewish residents of Zakynthos. They demanded this from the Mayor of Zakynthos and the Bishop of Zakynthos.
They came to the commander, to the Nazi commander and said: Here’s the list. It had two names on it: the Mayor and the Bishop, and all the Jews escaped safely.
I think this was an example of courage of the highest order. And it’s the spirit that you represent and you continue. You’re continuing this spirit that is both an example of human freedom and humanity, but also something that reflects our deepest friendship.
So, again, in that spirit of friendship I say to you Antonis, and to your delegation, welcome to Jerusalem.
Greek Prime Minister Samaras Response:
Thank you so much. On behalf of Mr. Venizelos and our ministers, I want to thank you also as a friend and ally both for your warm hospitality and for your kind words.
This is a historic moment [unclear] and this is a moment of paramount importance both for Greece and for Israel.
Our two peoples, as you mentioned, have strong historical ties. Only in the 20th century, the Jewish people suffered from the hideous Holocaust by the Nazis, which was a shame for the whole century and it was a shame for all human history.
In the same period the Greek people suffered from three years of Nazi occupation during which hundreds of thousands of Greeks were starved to death by the Nazis, were executed by the Nazis and got killed fighting the Nazis.
Both our people are united by common conviction summed up in two powerful words: “Never again.”
And both our countries have very strong diasporas stretching all over the world. I think we can combine forces, multiply our strengths in this synergy. We aspire to democratic values and principles. We are both located in a very turbulent region and have common concerns of stability and security.
We have common ambitions of prosperity through competitiveness and growth, and may I say that there are huge energy resources in our sea region in the Eastern Mediterranean. So we made today the important step ahead to join forces across a broad spectrum of issues which are vital for both our peoples. It is more, therefore, than a bilateral cooperation, It is a long-term strategic partnership and we want it to evolve as such.
Greece and Cyprus are both member states of the EU and we feel we can provide the stable connection between Israel and Europe. Greece and Cyprus have energy resources and we feel that we can both cooperate with Israel in the development and the transportation of those resources.
Greece and Cyprus and Israel can together become a beacon of hope for all nations and for all peoples in our area, a combined stronghold of stability and security because there is no stability without security; a combined stronghold of peace and justice because there is no peace without justice; a combined stronghold of democratic ideals and prosperity, because there is no prosperity without democracy, growth, peace and security.
This is a partnership that excludes no one and potentially includes all peoples in our region, aspiring to the same ideals of stability, security, peace and growth.
This is a partnership based on honesty, long-term mutual interests, common concerns and strong cultural ties. There are so many things, Mr. Prime Minister, we can do together in our countries, in our region, in Europe and all over the world. This is a pivotal point for our countries and our region and I want to believe that this is only the beginning.