Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arrived in Israel on Wednesday for a two-day visit and high-level meetings aimed at bolstering ties between Athens and Jerusalem.
Army Radio reported late Wednesday that Israel, Greece and Cyprus were working to build a closer alliance against Islamic extremism and to grapple against instability in Syria.
Tsipras told reporters that he discussed working with Israel to develop and transport natural gas to Europe during a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“One of the main issues in our talks today were the opportunities arising in the fields of energy, the fields of energy in the East Mediterranean. We are considering ways on cooperation in research, drilling and transportation of gas from Israel to Europe,” he said.
The discovery of a large gas field off of Israel is expected to turn the country from a consumer into a supplier, though the government has faced a series of bureaucratic and legislative hurdles to lease the field to an American-Israeli consortium for drilling.
Tsipras said Israel, Greece and Cyprus may meet in January to advance plans for transporting the gas north.
“The purpose of the meetings is to try to identify the exact fields of cooperation and how to build on these fields in order to develop… energy,” he said at a joint press conference with Netanyahu.
The Israeli prime minister talked about the “challenges before us,” especially the radical violence spreading in the Middle East, in Africa and in Europe, according to Army Radio.
“We’re the two democracies in the eastern Mediterranean and we are obviously aware that we have a world of opportunities – of technology, of development, of progress – to seize and we can seize it better through cooperation. But equally we also understand that there are great challenges before us,” Netanyahu told Tsipras, “especially very violent religious fundamentalism that seeks to sweep our world, is sweeping the Middle East, is sweeping North Africa and Europe and other parts of the world.”
“I feel I have something to contribute to tourism in Greece,” Netanyahu boasted, “because I was, in my early visit to Greece, I said – I think we had only 50,000 Israeli tourists at the time. I said we’ll grow it by hundreds of thousands. Today we’re at 350,000. It’s a lot but there can be more and we of course welcome every visitor from Greece, beginning with the prime minister, and everyone else. There is, as you said, a natural affinity between the Israelis and the Greeks. It’s very obvious when you go to either country.”
Tsipras, making his first visit to Israel, was also expected to meet with opposition leader Isaac Herzog later on Wednesday.
On Thursday Tsipras is slated to meet President Reuven Rivlin and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
According to a statement by Rivlin’s office, his meeting with Tsipras will mark 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and will address the strengthening of bilateral ties in a range of fields.
The Greek leader of the far-left Syriza party was elected for a second time just two months ago after his first administration collapsed when his country could not meet its exorbitant debt.
Relations between Israel and Greece have been cool for decades but have warmed since the premiership of George Papanderou who was elected in 2009.
The souring of relations between Israel and Turkey after the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010 also helped Israel come closer to Greece, a historical rival of Turkey.