Syriza Sells Out Former Ally, Palestine, to Form Ties with Israel, and Indirectly, Germany

It’s a mystery why Syriza remains a darling of the European left when it keeps selling out its voters and its supposed allies. Now in reality, Greece is a vassal state, yet commentators in Europe for the most part refuse to acknowledge that Syriza running a modern day Vichy government, legitimating an economic occupation.

The latest example of Syriza’s opportunism comes via Reuters (hat tip Mark Ames). Greece, Cyprus, and Israel just formed a joint deal. A close reading of a Reuters report shows the pact does more for Israel than for anyone else:

Israel, Cyprus and Greece have agreed to deepen their energy, security and tourism ties in the Eastern Mediterranean, a deal that may have implications for Israel’s testy relationship with the European Union, too.

The agreement, signed in Nicosia last week by a beaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Greek premier Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, focused on energy and the exploitation of natural gas deposits off Israel and Cyprus.

The Leviathan and Aphrodite fields are unlikely to start exporting before 2019 or 2020. Nevertheless, the ambition is to transport gas by pipeline, possibly via Turkey, or in liquefied form by ship to Europe, plugging the East Mediterranean into Europe’s grid and providing an alternative to Russia – which has far worse relations with the EU due to the Ukraine crisis.

Even this section requires some parsing. First, recall that during the 2013 Cyprus banking crisis, which really was a proxy war between Germany and Russia, the Cypriots tried offering “access” to the offshore gas fields to Russia in return for aid. You can see why the Russians demurred: you’d want to be sold development rights, not a more vague deal in exchange for “aid”. But on top of that, at the time the Russians expressed reservations because they understood the Turks had a claim on the same gas field(s). I have not seen any updates and would be interested in getting more informed commentary, but multiple countries exploiting the same resource can lead to nasty outcomes, as the first Gulf War attests. Iraq was unhappy with Kuwait over the fact that Kuwait was pumping more than Iraq thought was Kuwait’s share of an oil field that both countries could access. And mainstream outlets (no less than the Economist) reported not long after Iraq invaded Kuwait was that Iraq had sent messages to the US making clear that it was planning to move against Kuwait, and thought it had gotten tacit approval for its invasion.

Second, any development is years away, and almost certainly depends on energy prices being higher, likely markedly higher, than they are now. And it does not just depend on developing the fields, but also on building the transport facilities, either LNG storage and/or a pipeline.

So with the gas development depicted as the most important element of this pact, the benefits to Cyprus are uncertain and years away.

As far as the rest of the deal is concerned, it sounds awfully aspirational, as in nebulous. Again from Reuters:

As well as attracting more visitors and investment, Cyprus and Greece hope some of Israel’s high-tech success will rub off on them and lift their economies, both bailed out by the EU and IMF. There’s also Israeli know-how in defense, migration, cyber-security and counter-terrorism to draw on.

It’s no secret that Greece and Cyprus are economically prostrated and are therefore ripe to be picked clean by investors. And one has to assume those opportunities, such as they are, have been pretty well picked over. While Israel GDP is comparable to that of Greece ($288 billion in purchasing power parity terms versus Greece’s $285 billion), it runs trade deficits, which means it’s not in the capital export (foreign investment) business in a big way. And as much as technology upskilling would be beneficial, high tech industries don’t tend to employ a lot of people, and Greece needs more employment.

Despite the uncertainty of the returns to Cyprus and Greece, Israel is getting geopolitical bennies right away. Again from Reuters:

There is also a more nuanced potential benefit for Netanyahu: more partners inside the EU who may be inclined to defend Israel’s interests or at least not lean immediately towards the Palestinians on Middle East issues.

With France issuing an ultimatum to Israel at the weekend – saying it would recognize Palestine as a state if a new peace initiative doesn’t succeed – Israel is hoping its new allegiances in the EU will help head off the French threat.

Greece has traditionally been pro-Palestinian and was expected to remain so when Tsipras, a leftist, was elected last year. The same went for Cyprus to an extent. But the Palestinians now regard both as having shifted allegiance….

In EU debates, Israel has traditionally looked to Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, among others, to protect its interests…

With the new regional alliance, Greece and Cyprus may be more inclined towards Israel, which has also had some success at winning over Italy, another pro-Palestinian nation in the past.

When EU foreign ministers issued a hard-hitting statement on the Middle East peace process on Jan. 18, diplomats said the critical language towards Israel was softened slightly after Greece refused at first to sign off on it.

Greece may see it as a secondary benefit to be more aligned with Germany on this front, since it has enough friction with the creditor countries as it is, and may prefer to concentrate its limited chips on those issues. But that’s based on the faulty premise that Germany is negotiable on these issues, when in the 2015 bailout talks it went from being rigid to punitive.

And despite the talk of Greece benefitting from technology transfers from Israel, it is Israel so far that is a beneficiary:

Israel has already used the presence of a Russian-made air defense system located in Greece, which was originally supplied to Cyprus and traded to Athens, to train fighter pilots on how to thwart technology now being deployed in Syria.

In other words, while Syriza may have felt that Greece can no longer afford allies like Palestine that don’t provide tangible benefits, Israel appears to have exploited Greece’s desperation very effectively, gaining an EU/Eurozone supporter for virtually nothing in the way of concrete commitments. Nicely played.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    I’m not quite sure it is true to say that Syriza is the darling of the European Left now – I don’t follow the debates so closely, but I’ve had the impression that most semi-radical European groups see Syriza as a bit of an embarrassment now. I’ve noticed that in the Irish election campaign here not one of the many left wing parties and groups have given them a mention.

    I’m increasingly sceptical that the gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean will be developed. It suits a lot of people now to use them as a negotiating chip, but the long term prospect of very low prices for gas, and the obvious political risks involved will make it a low priority for investors. Its only likely I think if the governments themselves invest directly, and that would be very difficult for such a mix of countries. There is also the strong possibility of the Russians and others deliberately dropping prices to hit a new competitor like this.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That’s a fair comment and I probably overstated things on that front. However, I still detect a considerable reluctance on the European left to criticize Syriza publicly, save for disaffected former members, like the Left Platform.

      1. lolgreece

        Well consider what the criticism might look like.

        Today’s Syriza is not the Syriza of 2013, a medium-sized party growing outwards from a radical core as more of Greek society was becoming radicalised. In 2015, Syriza dumped its more radical factions and gradually swapped its disaffected activist army of idealists for one of cynical loyalists, who were given public sector jobs or power of one sort or another in exchange for loyalty. Likewise it swapped its radical voters for a much larger faction of voters who trust no one but either tribally oppose the parties of yesteryear or believe they have a good enough line to the leadership to secure very targeted concessions. Internally, the message is ‘no political platform is strong enough to be a credible opposition for another 5 years; do you want to be in the dark forever like Popular Unity, or do you want to be relevant?’.

        In short, to criticise Syriza requires one of three admissions which radical parties:

        * ‘Radical’ parties include a small core of ruthless, power-hungry nihilists who are more likely to stick around and gain influence once the party is in power than their more idealistic comrades.
        * ‘Radical’ revolutions happen on the back of voters who care little for ideology and are just out for themselves
        * Without the ‘strong institutions’ so beloved by the establishment, a ‘radical’ party cannot be trusted once in power, even by the people who put it there.

      2. Edna M.

        In my opinion, all the pro-EU Left parties are like Syriza. If and when they get to power in the other EU countries, they will act like Syriza as well. The one genuinely Left party in the Greek Parliament is KKE, the communist party that never gets mentioned in the Western press. The KKE refused to form a coalition with Syriza the first time Syriza was elected, knowing full well that Syriza was another neoliberal in disguise.

    2. Heron

      Yeah; it’s pretty clear Carbon’s in a bad way now, and it ain’t gonna get better with people increasingly going the renewable route. The Germans and the banks are behind the deal though, so maybe what they’re really planning to pump here are the financial fees, debts, and derivatives generated by a few years of desultory attempts at developing the fields? Classic “Private Equity” just targetting states; Greece and Cyprus take out loans to pay companies to exploit the fields, they’re never really given enough at a low enough price to justify field development, after a decade or so the carbon cos pull out, and Greece and Cyprus are left puffed up with debt they were pressured into taking on by the Eurobanks, who just so happen to be holding the marker. Poof! Aegean Firesale.

      Of course, given the looting they’re already doing, one has to wonder exactly what they expect will be left to take. But the banks are always too clever by half. Look at the GFC; they told themselves finagling the Mortgage Securities market was safe because, even when it came crashing down, they’d end up with all this real-estate at inflated prices through rigged foreclosure courts. The blindingly basic truth that Real Estate, Mortgage, and Mortgage Securities prices were all inter-related, and that if any one of them tanked they all would, never seems to have occurred to any of them.

  2. John F. Opie

    One slight error:

    And mainstream outlets (no less than the Economist) reported not long after Iraq invaded Kuwait was that Kuwait had sent messages to the US making clear that it was planning to move against Iraq, and thought it had gotten tacit approval for its invasion.

    should be:

    And mainstream outlets (no less than the Economist) reported not long after Iraq invaded Kuwait was that Iraq had sent messages to the US making clear that it was planning to move against Kuwait, and thought it had gotten tacit approval for its invasion.

  3. DRob

    “Syriza Sells Out Former Ally, Palestine, to Form Ties with Israel”
    Seems kind of an overly dramatic heading considering that Greece
    has long had ties with Israel and that Syriza still strongly recognizes and
    supports the creation of a Palestinian state. Cooperation in the eventual development of the Mediterranean gas fields is in the joint economic interests
    of Greece, Cyprus and Israel.
    Sometimes the thirst for agitprop outweighs common sense.

  4. Blink 180

    Now in reality, Greece is a vassal state, yet commentators in Europe for the most part refuse to acknowledge that Syriza running a modern day Vichy government, legitimating an economic occupation.

    You could substitute the name of any 1st world country for Greece and the above would remain true.

  5. digi_owl

    Very simple really, Syriza is a member of the champagne left. The “social” (network) left that want to use the EU as some kind of grand social project to bring mutual friendship and understand to Europe.

    This while selling the other left, the workers left, down the river.

    The problem is that the champagne left has gotten duped by the financial right into thinking that the EU can only be such a project if there is a free flow of capital and workers across the borders.

    Only that the financial right is using this to crush national unions (workers left) and hide away profits from the taxman.

    And the union crushing happens by temporary employing unskilled workers from the elsewhere in Europe, driving up local unemployment, and thus sending the workers left right into the arms of the nationalist right.

    And the nationalist right can’t go after the financial right, because they too make use of the tax havens and the cheap labor (while at the same time complaining loudly about the migrant workers disrupting the “proper” way of things).

    Its a fuckup of epic proportions, that either will result in the lunching of finance, or a shooting war (perhaps both, with either side blaming the other of being both communists and nazis at the same time).

  6. Green Eagle

    I notice that there is nothing in your article that explains exactly how Syriza “sold out” the Palestinians by making a development deal with Israel.

    It is apparently your opinion that treating Israel like any other country is a stab in the back for Arabs. Syriza has a right to make development deals and it can exercise that right without having to feel that they are traitors for not doing exactly what the Palestinian leadership wants. I think it is about time that you realize that you are trying to force Syriza to bow to the will of a vicious, corrupt dictatorship. Is that what you really want the world to be like?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I suggest you improve your reading skill. There’s no development deal for Israel. The development deal is for Cyprus, for the offshore gas.

      Syriza got nothing but handwaves from Israel in that agreement, yet Israel has already gotten tangible benefits from the agreement via Greece now acting on the pro-Israel side in various Eurozone/EU matters, and to date Israel is the one benefitting from technology transfer, not Greece.

      So Greece was snookered and sold out an ally, one that the left-leaning voters that put Syriza into office presumably would still prefer to support. And you defend that?

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