Guest Viewpoints

The Iranian Nuclear Threat and Greek-Israeli Relations

Two items in the March 7 issue of The National Herald, an editorial, “Netanyahu’s Pyrrhic Victory” and an opinion piece, “A National Disgrace: Boehner Undermines the President,” take sharp aim at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 address to a joint session of Congress.

The objections outlined in the National Herald to Netanyahu’s speech center on House Speaker John Boehner’s circumvention of protocol. Boehner reportedly failed to inform President Barack Obama prior to inviting Netanyahu. Sadly, the bickering about etiquette has been exploited to obscure discussion of something far more substantial: the danger that Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons poses to Israel, Greece, the United States, and the entire international community.

Whether or not there was an Israeli election on March 17, Netanyahu would have delivered a talk on Iran’s eliminatory anti-Semitism. Israeli leaders cannot pooh-pooh the murderous jingoism stemming from Tehran.

Iran’s clerical leaders have, time after time, called to annihilate Israel. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared: “The Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor and it will be removed.” Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said: “Application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.”

The current president, Hassan Rouhani, is in the so-called moderate camp of Rafsanjani. In 2013, Rouhani left no doubt about his aspirations: “Saying ‘Death to America’ is easy. We need to express ‘Death to America’ with action.”

All of this helps to show that Iran – the leading state-sponsor of terrorism, according to the U.S. State Department – poses the gravest threat to international security today.

The Obama administration has continued to keep the details of its concessions to Tehran under wraps. The effects of Netanyahu’s speech coupled with 47 Republican senators warning Iran’s leaders that a flawed nuclear agreement can be overturned after Obama leaves office are now obvious. Secretary of State John Kerry was compelled to admit that a nuclear agreement with Iran would be “non-binding” on the United States.

Obama famously said of his government, “This is the most transparent administration in history.” Yet the full text of the 2013 interim agreement (the JPOA), meant to curb Iran’s work on its illicit nuclear weapons program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions, was not made public. Obama’s decision to shroud his negotiations with Iran in secrecy has triggered anxiety among America’s allies in the region, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf monarchies.

The alternative to a bad deal with Iran is not war, as the Obama Administration contends, but rather a “good deal,” to quote Netanyahu. Economic sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table. New robust sanctions could secure more concessions from Iran’s leaders.

Greece’s government signed on to the European Union’s tough energy sanctions targeting Iran in 2012.The renaissance in Greek-Israeli relations began in 2009. One decisive moment in the Greek-Israel relationship was Greece blocking in 2011 an anti-Israel protest flotilla intended to break the legal blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Radical Turkish Islamists sent a flotilla to Gaza in 2010, resulting in Israeli naval commandoes intercepting the Mavi Marmara ship and the deaths of 10 Turks. Iran’s military support for the U.S.-designated terrorist entity Hamas is well-known.

University of Piraeus Prof. Aristotle Tziampiris, an expert on Hellenic-Israel ties, attended a symposium on the Greek-Israeli relationship at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University’s BESA Center on March 10, The Jerusalem Post reported. Discussing Greece’s left-wing government, he said, “The core relationship will continue, amid an agreement to disagree on the Palestinian issue.” Tziampiris delineated the elements of the core relationship as tourism, commerce, and military and security cooperation.

Tziampiris’ comments seem to be buttressed by reports from a February conference at an Athens military college. According to Haaretz, 80 leading Greek military officers listened to an Israeli journalists deliver a talk on the Middle East. A Greek military colonel asked “whether Greece could replace Turkey as Israel’s closest friend.” A second officer questioned whether intensified Greek-Israeli relations are “genuine or a temporary substitute until relations between Israel and Turkey are revived.”

A litmus test for the Greek-Israeli security relationship, from the perspective of the Jewish state, will be how to confront Iran and its strategic partners Hamas and Hezbollah. Greece’s neighbor Bulgaria was hit by a Hezbollah-Iran terrorist attack in 2012. Hezbollah operatives blew up a tourist bus in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas, killing five Israelis and their Bulgarian Muslim bus driver. Thirty-two other Israelis were seriously wounded.

The rise of an authoritarian and increasingly Islamized Turkey will also present security challenges to Greece and Israel.

It is also worth noting that Qatar remains a key financial supporter of Hamas and of jihadists in the Syrian and Iraqi war theaters. The non-democratic Qatari regime has played a key role in destabilizing the Middle East.

Back to Iran: The Islamic Republic’s revolutionary ideology mirrors the ideology of the Hitler movement. Iran’s clerical rulers support jihadist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, whose raison d’etre is to murder Jews and obliterate Israel. Iran’s Khomeini system – like prior fascist regimes in Europe that sought to devour territory –seeks to control Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq.

The March 15 remembrance of the deportations of Thessaloniki Jews to the Nazi extermination camps can serve to illustrate the modernized threats Israel faces. More than 53,000 Thessaloniki Jews from a community of 56,000 were murdered in Auschwitz. The same lethal anti-Semitism that animated the Nazis to murder Greek Jews is now embedded in radical Islam. In addition to the 2,000 Greek Jews who this year commemorated the first step of the Holocaust in Greece, more than 200 Syriza supporters participated in the event.

Surely SYRIZA, with its anti-fascist traditions, should be able to fathom the murderous anti-Semitism of the Nazis and its mirror image in radical jihadism, from Iran to Islamic State to al-Qaeda. The pressing question is, will Greece’s government translate its rejection of the Iranian nuclear threat—and the proliferation of jihadist groups—into a sustainable anti-terrorism policy as part of Israel-Greek relations?


Benjamin Weinthal reports on European affairs for The Jerusalem Post and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal.



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