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.