Israel and Greece have signed their biggest ever defence procurement deal, which Israel said would strengthen political and economic ties between the countries as the two countries’ air forces launched a joint exercise.
The agreement includes a $1.65bn contract for the establishment and operation of a training centre for the Hellenic Air Force by Israeli defence contractor Elbit Systems over a 22-year period, Israel’s defence ministry said on Sunday.
The training centre will be modelled on Israel’s own flight academy and will be equipped with 10 M-346 training aircraft produced by Italy’s Leonardo, the ministry said.
Elbit will supply kits to upgrade and operate Greece’s T-6 aircraft and also provide training, simulators and logistical support.
“I am certain that (this programme) will upgrade the capabilities and strengthen the economies of Israel and Greece and thus the partnership between our two countries will deepen on the defence, economic and political levels,” said Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz.
The announcement follows a meeting in Cyprus on Friday between the United Arab Emirates, Greek, Cypriot and Israeli foreign ministers, who agreed to deepen cooperation.
The Israeli and Greek air forces on Sunday launched a joint exercise in Greece, the Israeli military said.
In at least one past exercise over Greece, Israeli fighter planes practised against an S-300 posted on Crete. The Russian-made air defence system is also deployed in Syria and Iran, Israel’s foes.
A source in the Hellenic National Defence Command said the S-300 had not been activated in the joint exercise that began on Sunday.
Israel, Greece and Cyprus have taken several steps in recent months to cement ties, including advancing plans to build a 2,000-megawatt undersea electricity cable and a 1,900km (1,300-mile) undersea gas pipeline, a move that irked regional rival Turkey.
Last month, the Israeli military said it conducted a joint naval exercise with Greece and Cyprus.
Greece and Cyprus are embroiled in a dispute with Turkey, which has sent gas prospecting vessels into waters claimed by Greece and drilling ships into an area where Cyprus claims exclusive rights.
The tension brought NATO allies Greece and Turkey close to open conflict last year, but tensions have eased since then.
Source: Al Jazeera