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07 October, 1999
National Defense Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos' visit to Israel next week will include talks with the Mideast country's top leadership, visits to Israeli defense industries as well as a meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, diplomatic circles in Athens said yesterday.
Greek-Israeli contacts have dramatically increased in recent years, especially in 1999. The late Yannos Kranidiotis, in his capacity as deputy foreign minister, held talks with Israeli leadership during his visit in early August.
In addition, a high-ranking Israeli public security ministry delegation explored greater bilateral cooperation during a visit to Greece in February, while the Israeli naval chief, Read-Adm. Alex Tal, officially visited the country in late August and met with his Greek counterpart. Athens Mayor Dimitris Avrampoulos also visited Jerusalem recently for contacts with his counterpart Ehud Olmert.
"Maybe the last election (in Israel) gave new impetus for better relations...there are better prospects (for peace) in the Middle East," diplomatic sources said, referring to the heightened level of Greek-Israeli contacts.
The Hellenic army chief is also expected to travel to Israel some time during November, while standing invitations have been made for an exchange of visits by both Greece's and Israel's head of states and government.
Sources said main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Costas Karamanlis might also visit Israel before the end of the year.
The same sources added that if the Greek side brings up the issue of Athens' serious concerns over expanded Turkish-Israeli cooperation in the military field, they (Greek side) will again be given the same reassurances as before.
Diplomatic circles emphasized again that Israel "has never acknowledged military intelligence cooperation" with Ankara, while Israeli circles maintain that there is a "growing realization" that Turkish-Israeli military ties lie within the boundaries of what they refer to as usual defense-related trade activities.
"We will try to alleviate any misunderstandings," a diplomatic source in Athens said, adding that Israeli leadership is aware that Athens and Greek public sentiment disagree with the budding military relationship between the Jewish state and Ankara, and that the issue has been repeatedly brought up in talks between Greek and Israeli officials.
Turkey's military establishment has shown an interest in the Israeli-made Merkaba main battle tank, while the hi-tech Israeli defense industry is set to supply Turkey's air force with its "Popeye" missiles, along with modernizing Ankara's fleet of F-4 ' Phantoms'. In terms of the Mideast peace process, diplomatic sources said the time is now conducive for a substantive follow-up to the "Wye River" agreements, with the Labor victory under Ehud Barak eliminating any "excuse" on the part of the Arab side.
"Either you deal with Labor and Barak now...or you deal with Likud and the right," one source said.
Source: Athens News Agency