Unexpected Guests in the Night

Date: 05/06/2022 Time: 10:12

Barry μικρή By Barry Shaw*

Israel very much values the growing relationship that is developing with Greece and Cyprus. Most Israelis appreciate the stable nature of Greeks having experienced a roller-coaster ride with an unstable Turkish leadership.

You never know with Erdogan what side of the bed he gets out of in the morning. He look and acts like a grumpy aging man leaving yesterday’s allies not knowing what is likely to come out of his office from one day to the next.

This is no way to build up a strong and reliable partnership.

When Erdogan decided to turn his country into an Islamic spearhead he went on the offensive against Israel. Israeli tourists were the first to vote with their feet and their pocketbooks.

Israeli tourists are equipped with a natural alarm system that goes off at the slightest indication of personal risk. They loved the Turkish hotels, beaches, and cheap shopping, but when Erdogan began his sabre-rattling, they searched for a handy alternative and re-discovered Greece, the Greek islands, and Cyprus, just a forty-minute flight from Tel Aviv.

They abandoned Turkey and turned to Greece and the Greek islands.

Tens of thousands of Israelis gifted the Greek economy, leaving the Turkish tourism industry scratching their heads. Israelis are inveterate travelers ready to take off, several times a year, at the drop of a hat. In other words, they are repeat guests at any handy destination.

A personal admission. I am celebrating a special birthday by bringing my thirteen member family group for several days in wonderful Santorini at the end of June.

But Israel’s new relationship with Greece and Cyprus goes way beyond tourism.

Israel, Greece, and Cyprus were ready, two years ago, to begin planning the 1,700 km EastMed natural gas pipeline, but the United States objected to any potential environmental damage plus the lengthy ten-years it would take to complete the project infrastructure.

Instead, the new idea is for Israel to pipe the natural gas from its Mediterranean reserves to Egypt where it will be liquified in Egyptian processing plants before being shipped to Europe.

Although Israel, Greece and Cyprus are disappointed that the United States put the block on the natural gas pipeline, intense discussions on other potential joint projects are taking place. The militaries and fire-fighting arms of the three countries have seen combined exercises and active cooperation in emergencies.

There are several contacts to bring Greek and Cypriots into the ring of Israel’s world-renowned innovative hi-tech circle. 

However, Cypriots in some mountainous regions of the island, may have been surprised to discover heavily armed Israeli soldiers stealthily marching through their villages in the middle of a late May night with helicopters flying overhead.

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With the full cooperation of the Cypriot military, thousands of Israeli soldiers were in Cyprus conducting an intense drill called ‘Beyond the Horizon.’  This exercise was part of a month long and intense Israeli exercise called ‘Chariots of Fire’ which foresees an Israeli doomsday situation in which Iran will call on its various proxies surrounding Israel to open a prolonged and intense attack against the Jewish State using Hezbollah across Israel’s northern border arms with an estimated 150,000 rockets joined by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad joining the assault with over 40,000 missiles across Israel’s southern border, and either Iran itself or its various proxy armies in Syria bombarding Israel from over our eastern border, in a combined attempt to destroy Israel with combined Iranian rockets, drones, and other precision missiles with the potential addition of ground forces emerging from terror tunnels or by breaching the borders and flooding into Israeli civilian areas.  

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The exercise that took place in Cyprus was to prepare our soldiers for the potential scenario they need to fight Hezbollah on their own turf in parts of Lebanon. Hence their appearance in the unfamiliar terrain of mountainous Cyprus which is similar to parts of Lebanon where Hezbollah have a heavy presence.

The Israeli soldiers practiced maneuvering in enemy territory and dealing with challenges that come with fighting an enemy in unknown surroundings. This included dealing with logistics and supplies, captured enemy combatants, injured or dead Israeli soldiers, and extracting the force during or after the mission is completed.

The exercise saw combat helicopters in support of the ground troops. Some performed emergency evacuations, while others dropped troops in advance of specific targeting missions.

Hundreds of Israeli aircraft also simulated target strikes far from Israel’s borders.

The intense and prolonged exercise was observed by both Greek and Cypriot top military and intelligence officers who acknowledge that watching the IDF in operation improves their own armies skills and strengthens their strategic balance against future threats to their own countries.

Ships from the Greek and Italian navies supported the IDF during this drill and helped provide logistical support.

Present during the exercise was Israeli Defense Minister, Benny Ganz, who thanked Cyprus for hosting the IDF. He said it “illustrates the depth of the strategic alliance between the two countries.”

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Also present was General Aviv Kohavi, the IDF Chief of Staff, who thanked the Cypriot forces, both army, navy, and air force, for their cooperation and assistance.

Both the Cypriot and Greek armies have sent forces to Israel and have learned from their experiences working with Israel’s IDF.

‘Beyond the Horizon’ was a win-win-win experience for all three countries.

* Barry ShawInternational Public Diplomacy Director, Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

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