Statement by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during a joint press conference with Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu

KM: First of all, let me start by expressing my gratitude to Prime Minister Netanyahu for the very warm welcome and hospitality he has extended to my entire delegation. As I was preparing for this trip and I was going through my archives, I found the statements made by my late father Konstantine Mitsotakis back in 1990, when he said at the time that the friendship between Greece and Israel is and should continue to be a fundamental pillar of Greek foreign policy. That statement was made at a time when this relationship was not so obvious as it is today. But I still feel that these remarks have never felt more prescient than they do today. And I have thought a lot about the meaning of those words in the past few weeks, we had a chance to virtually celebrate, commemorate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations between our two countries on May 21. Then I am here today on the first post COVID phase one – I should say – trip that I make with eight of my ministers to talk to the new Israeli government about ways that we can mutually strengthen but also broaden our strategic partnership through closer cooperation in a number of key areas. I would like to point out that this is a very strong strategic partnership. It is solid. It stands on its own merit. It is not determined by other actors. But it is a relationship that can grow and strengthen still further. We have had a chance with the Prime Minister to talk about COVID-19. And we jointly participate in a group of countries around the globe, which is called on smart COVID-19 management, where we have shared valuable lessons and experiences on how to tackle this unique and devastating problem. I think we’ve both done a pretty good job in addressing the first wave of the pandemic. However, we know that after successfully overcoming the first phase, it will be far from smart management if we were to relax apart today. And it’s important to constantly send the message that we must stay vigilant, we must prepare for a possible second wave and hopefully, technology and breakthroughs in medical science will help us in this front and we’ve had a chance to discuss also very interesting work that is done by scientists in Israel on this front. At the same time, we fully recognize that we need to restart our economies and return to a new normal. Both our countries are needing tourist destinations and for us it is important to open Greece to foreign tourists, but we will place their safety and health as our number one priority. So as of July 1, we will be accepting direct flights into all our main tourism destinations. And hopefully, if things go according to plan, as of August 1, Israeli tourists will be able to travel to Greece and we are looking forward looking. Hopefully, we can extend the season into October, why not November, to make up for some of the last ground. What I do want to tell you is that we have worked very, very hard to ensure the safety of our guests. We have very strict health protocols. We have strengthened our medical facilities in all the tourist resorts. We thought hard about how we can open up our tourism industry to foreign travelers, but we will do it again by placing their safety, their health as our number one priority.
We will we have also spoken about other aspects of our relationship. We’ll be signing protocols regarding agriculture, energy, tourism, cybersecurity, I placed particular emphasis on cooperation when it comes to cybersecurity. I’ll be meeting with a group of Israeli investors who are either active in Greece or interested in investing in Greece. There are significant opportunities for investments in Greece during this period. We have a stable, reform-oriented government with an absolute majority in power that has placed attracting foreign investors as our number one priority. And when I look, for example, at what is happening in your tech space, and in our tech space, synergies, Prime Minister, are more than obvious. You are looking for highly qualified engineers. We have an abundance of highly qualified engineers in our country, we are one-and-a-half hour away, same time zone, we offer you an entry into the EU market. We have, we both have huge diasporas, we try to encourage our people to come back either to Israel, or Greece, we have so many talented engineers who are abroad, who would like to come back to Greece, and why not work also for Israeli companies that set up a presence in our country.
So, in that space, in particular, I see tremendous opportunities. But of course, there are also opportunities in other sectors. We have spoken a lot about how we can strengthen our defense cooperation, not just operationally, but also in terms of defense infrastructure. Our Minister of Defense is going to be having very interesting meetings with his counterpart. There is much more we can do in terms of complementarity between our defense industries and, of course, you pointed out the tremendous importance of our trilateral relationship: Israel, Greece, Cyprus. This is a format that with the addition of the United States in the three plus one format, has a vision of a peaceful, Eastern Mediterranean. But of course, it was in this context that the vision for the Eastmed pipeline was worn. We were very, very happy to have you in Athens on January 2, when we actually signed the pipeline and looking forward to also bringing Italy on board and starting in earnest to work on this emblematic project, which is a project of great interest for Europe as a whole, because we’re looking for alternative sources of natural gas and we’re looking to exploit whatever gas is found in in the eastern Mediterranean.
Of course, we also had a chance to talk about the broader region. I set out what I consider our view to be regarding Turkey’s aggressive behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean. We consider this activity to be a threat to regional peace and stability. I raised with the Prime Minister recent incidents of illegal and provocative Turkish behavior at our sea, air and land borders, and of course spoke a lot about the destabilizing effect that Turkey has played vis-à-vis its relationship with Libya, and what we consider to be a completely null and void agreement regarding the delimitation of maritime zones between those two countries. We will always pursue peace having at the foundation the respect for international law and the United Nations Convention for the law of the seas. These are the main principles that we applied when we signed a delimitation agreement with Italy a few days ago. And it is exactly on these premises that we want to build the framework for broader regional cooperation.
So, I think, as the Prime Minister said, we are at the turning point where we can take stock of what happened over the past 30 years. But I am so confident that this is a relationship that can deliver so much more to the benefit of both are people, both on the strategic-geopolitical side on the economic side
On the cultural side, we always feel so much at home when we come to Israel. And I am sure the same, I know same applies to Israelis visiting Greece. And this is a relationship that goes back for thousands of years and it can only grow stronger and have a brighter future. So again, Prime Minister, thank you so much for the warm welcome.