- The Emergence of Israeli-Greek Cooperation by Aristotle Tziampiris
While coexistence between Greeks and Jews goes back at least two millennia, close ties between the states of Israel and Greece are surprisingly very recent. They began in earnest in 2009 in the shadow of fast deteriorating ties between Turkey and Israel and in the presence of two eager politicians, prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and George Papandreou. In this short book, Aristotle Tziampiris explains why it took so long for two natural allies to finally see the light and what may be the consequences and future of this relationship in view of the shifting security architecture in the eastern Mediterranean. It is a well written and thought-provoking book that punches above its weight in at least two areas. First, it provides a much needed historical context to an under-researched area. Second, it uses solid empirical evidence to support the soft-balancing variant of the broader stream of classical realist theory. The result is an informative piece of academic scholarship that will be equally useful to scholars and practitioners.
Why did it take six decades for the two states to seek closer ties, and what factors brought about the mutual tilt? The author uses a theory of balancing power. Pointing out the usual drawbacks of traditional balance-of-power arguments—the inability to pinpoint target selection, failure to differentiate between favorable and unfavorable balance, and analytical inadequacy to explain specific strategic behavior—Tziampiris utilizes provoking arguments made by Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, Randall Schweller, and Robert Pape (among others) to contend that states aim to actively balance their power within a regional context by pursuing strategies of internal and external balancing. The assumption is that achieving regional stability rather than increasing tension best serves national interests. In light of Greece’s deteriorating economic condition, closer cooperation with Israel can be seen as an act of external rebalancing vis-à-vis Turkey. This seemingly simple argument explains not only the motives and [End Page 123] timing but also the strategies that were used. Moreover, the argument helps explain the paradoxical behavior of Greece trying to mediate in 2010 to bring Israel and Turkey closer together.
The key rests in differentiating between hard and soft balancing and the conditions that trigger one rather than the other. “When a state sees another geographical[ly] proximate state as a threat coupled with an increase in the neighbor’s aggregate and offensive power,” it resorts to balancing behavior to reduce the threat, according to Tziampiris. Hard balancing involves forming alliances and pursuing arms races to face the threat. Soft balancing builds on economic and diplomatic ties that may also include closer military cooperation. The choice between hard and soft balancing is shaped by internal and/or external weakness. Internal weakness in the presence of a strong, external threat is likely to lead to soft balancing.
Two questions loom large in this context. First, why did it take so long to forge closer ties despite cultural and political commonalities between Greece and Israel? The answer lies in history, domestic developments, and global politics. Despite a long Jewish presence in Greece, relations were strained between the two minorities under Ottoman rule. Although Jews in Greece did not experience the anti-Semitism brought about by usury laws in other parts of Western Europe, they received preferential treatment by successive sultans. Behind the liberal veneer of the millet system lay a shrewd divide-and-conquer strategy that provided security benefits to Muslims in Ottoman lands. Co-opting this religious minority essentially separated Jews from numerically superior Christians, giving the former a stake in the system, especially in view of their terrible treatment at the time in the hands of Catholics in Spain, France, and elsewhere. The result was similar to that under colonialism. The system created and perpetuated zero-sum divisions between subjugated groups that were maintained long after the Ottomans ceased to exist as an organized empire. More benefits to Jews were viewed as benefits or rights taken away from Christians. In...