JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited Israel on Tuesday in a show of confidence in the countries’ anti-coronavirus measures which Athens hopes can be translated into a resumption of tourism.
With Greece, Israel and Cyprus partnered up on energy projects in the eastern Mediterranean, Mitsotakis also warned against exploration efforts by “neighbourhood bully” Turkey.
Israel sees the visit as an opportunity to dilute European opposition to its planned annexation of occupied West Bank land which the Palestinians want for a state.
Hoping to salvage its tourism sector this summer, Greece opened its main airports to mainly EU visitors on Monday. Israel has provided about 1 million tourists annually in recent years.
“I am certain that the flights from Israel will resume very soon,” Mitsotakis told Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth before he arrived in Israel. “I aspire to make Greece the safe destination of Europe.”
Mitsotakis said the Greek-Israeli-Cypriot energy explorations arrangement “is not directed against nor exclusive of anyone”, but accused Turkey of trying to exert political and military control over the region.
“Turkey is welcome to give up on its imperialistic pipeline dreams and cooperate with us as an equal and law-abiding partners – not as the neighbourhood bully,” he said.
Turkey says it is within its sovereign rights.
Israel says its planned annexation of Jewish settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley in the West Bank is in line with a U.S. plan for peace with the Palestinians, but the European Union has said it “could not pass unchallenged”.
“We expect Greece to be an anchor of support for us in the Union,” Yossi Amrani, the Israeli ambassador to Athens, told Israel’s Army Radio when asked about the annexation plan.
Mitsotakis told Yedioth he would also speak to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after returning to Greece.
(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Timothy Heritage)