Cyprus, Greece, and Jordan’s Trilateral Summit
In late July 2021, a trilateral meeting— the third one since 2018— between the heads of states of Cyprus, Greece, and Jordan took place in Athens. Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiadis, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and Jordanian King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein discussed key issues in the Eastern Mediterranean and Levant region. This included the tourism industry, trade relations and investments, major agricultural projects, environmental policies and green energy perspectives, and digital transformation. Yet, the current diplomatic and security challenges across the region remained on top of the agenda. Despite the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute had a prominent place in the talks, Greece and Cyprus were not expected to play a significant role towards any resolution considering their current international standing and priorities.
However, Athens and Nicosia can maintain a substantial role in negotiations between Jordan— or other Arab Countries— and the EU. With Amman holding a member position in the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), in continuation with the Barcelona Process, Greece and Cyprus could work as reliable intermediaries between Jordan and major EU powers, with the mutual interests of the three parties in mind.
On the issues of Libya and Syria, all three adopted a similar perspective. On the other hand, Jordan seems to be aligning with the Greek-Cypriot approach towards the resolution of the Cypriot dispute indicating that Jordan could back Greece politically in key areas of disagreement with Turkey. Regional security and stability seem to be the core elements for the policy shaping process of the three countries, in light of the fragile and ever-changing geopolitical balances in the Eastern Mediterranean and Levant.
Greek-Emirati Cooperation Agreement in Foreign Policy and Defense
In November 2020, the Greek Prime Minister and a team of prominent officials, including the Greek Foreign Minister, visited Abu Dhabi to participate in high-level talks with the Emirati leadership. A Cooperation Agreement in Foreign Policy and Defense and a Mutual Declaration for Strategic Partnership were signed, with several bilateral follow-up meetings taking place since then. The most recent was the visit of the Greek Foreign Minister to the UAE in June 2021.
The agreements address the consolidation of the Greek-Emirati ties in the strategic fields of foreign affairs, defense, and other vital areas, such as trade and energy. In the framework of this defense cooperation there are speculations that Emirati F-16E/F Block 61 and Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets could be sold to Greece on favorable terms, as both countries are upgrading their Air Force fleets.
There are speculations that Emirati F-16E/F Block 61 and Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets could be sold to Greece on favorable terms,.
But the most interesting aspect of these pacts, has been the defense clause, with provisions that each side would join and assist the other in case of an offensive action from a third country; implying that Abu Dhabi would militarily assist Athens in case of a Turkish aggression. Even though this part of the agreement has been presented by the Greek media as a crucial development, able to change the balance of power in the Mediterranean, the actual outcome in realistic terms is much more insignificant.
The very fact that Greece and Turkey are both NATO members, a potential UAE involvement in a possible confrontation between the two could lead to an unprecedented situation and provoke an impasse across the Treaty Organization, hence it’s unlikely to be materialized. Furthermore, the idea that a Sunni monarchy would join Greece against another Sunni Muslim country, which is not posing a direct threat to the Emirati vital interests, would only complicate things. Even in the instance that politics could overrule religion at the very senior state levels, the adverse reaction of the population and military personnel in lower and medium ranks would be that much more perplexing.
Moreover, this clause seems to only have unilateral application, thus further degrading its importance. Athens would hardly be able to militarily assist Abu Dhabi in a potential escalation with regional rivals, as the Greek political reality and balances would not make it possible. Therefore, the deployment of Greek personnel or heavy military equipment to the Gulf, in a potential confrontation – for instance with Tehran – is improbable.
In the end, despite the diplomatic steps taken by Greece and the UAE, the actual status quo in the Eastern Mediterranean security landscape would hardly be affected in strict military balance and capabilities terms.
Greek-Saudi Relations and the Patriot deal
The relations between Athens and Riyadh have also been cemented during this period. A deal regarding the transfer of a Greek-owned Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) system along with dozens of Hellenic Air Force personnel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been on the table since late 2019, though it has not been completed yet.
In April 2021, the Greek Foreign Minister met his Saudi counterpart, Faisal bin Farhan, in Riyadh where they signed the Status of Forces Agreement, which among other things confirms the Patriot deal. The Greek side described this agreement as a significant move, which could boost ties with the Gulf countries as a whole. The defense system aims to protect critical Saudi infrastructure, as the Yemeni conflict is still ongoing, and the Houthi forces are frequently conducting drone and missile attacks against major facilities within Saudi territory.
Meanwhile, the US administration is reportedly in the process of withdrawing Patriot missiles, US equipment and personnel from the Kingdom, as President Biden is realigning US policy towards Iran and is decreasing the American footprint in the wider Middle East region. In this context, the Greek Patriot systems could contribute to limiting this security gap, even though the vacuum created by the US withdrawal will far outweigh any Greek defensive impact. Therefore, the Patriot move could be mostly interpreted as an attempt to create political effects in both countries rather than a substantial strategic agreement which could decisively alter the regional security landscape.
Delimitation of the Greek-Egyptian Exclusive Economic Zones
Egypt might be considered the regional player with the most significant common interests with Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman policy and his support for Muslim Brotherhood’s affiliates across the region are diametrically opposed to the vital interests of the Sisi administration in Egypt. Hence, it could be said that Cairo represents the most reliable ally for Athens. In July, Nikos Dendias, the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs signed, in Cairo, a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Arab League.
Moreover, in August 2020, Dendias and his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Hassan Shoukry, signed an agreement on the delimitation of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) between Greece and Egypt. The agreement was registered with the United Nations and published shortly thereafter.
For decades, Ankara has been indirectly warning Athens to abstain from declaring an Exclusive Economic Zone in the Aegean Sea
For decades, Ankara has been indirectly warning Athens to abstain from declaring an Exclusive Economic Zone in the Aegean Sea. Despite that the agreement with Egypt was presented as a breakthrough move for Greek interests in the area. However, a particular development with serious geopolitical implications for Greece happened when it decided to agree on the boundaries as per the table below:
Experts believe that Athens actually compromised its interests, by partially cancelling the EEZ influence of the Greek island of Rhodes and totally omitting the Greek island of Kastelorizo. Those moves align to an extent with the Turkish claims in the area, downgrading the strategic significance of the Greek-Egyptian agreement.
Finally, in addition to its openings to Jordan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, Greece has also tried to re-establish ties with Libya through official bilateral meetings between the heads of states. Extensive talks on trade agreements and major investments in the North African country have ensued. Yet all Greek efforts toward a cancellation of the Libyan-Turkish MoU have had a rather lukewarm Libyan reception and the Greek EEZ declaration moves in the Eastern Mediterranean have been rather problematic.
The steadfast Turkish strategy across the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has undoubtedly alarmed Athens. Since the Turkish-Libyan Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), Greek diplomacy has taken steps towards addressing this situation, which has been underplayed for decades.
The key leverage for the Greek government seems to be its intention to act as a bridge between the Arab world and the European Union.
Hence, Athens has certainly proceeded more purposefully lately to bolster its relations with all major Arab states. The key leverage for the Greek government seems to be its intention to act as a bridge between the Arab world and the European Union, as prominent Greek officials are emphasizing at every opportunity.
However, and even though there have been some achievements on common foreign policy issues, it would be utopic to claim absolute consensus on essential defense issues, including the threat perceptions from Turkey, Iran, or local militant groups. Each player is expected to prioritize and treat regional challenges according to their national self-interests. In this respect, despite several significant diplomatic gains, the actual expectations around military cooperation and defense coordination should be limited—contrary to what local political figures and major regional media are trumpeting. Overall, the pursuit of vested interests and partisan agendas will remain.