Israel is working on opening up tourist exchanges with countries with either low virus infection rate and those with an excellent health success record of fighting the virus.
Greece and Cyprus are two of the countries that can expect to see an influx of tourist money from Israelis who see both countries as appealing destinations and safe zones for Israelis to visit.
Other countries looked on with favor by the Israeli government include Austria, Montenegro, Georgia, and the Indian Ocean island of Seychelles.
Israel responded quickly to the outbreak of the pandemic. It radically reduced incoming flights and ordered incoming passengers into 14-day isolation. Unlike most European countries, Israel enforced a strict lockdown. Following reports of infected people ignoring instructions, the Israeli government enlisted the intelligence and security agency, the Shin Bet, to track down individuals who broke strict quarantine rules, and arrested and fined several people caught violating the order.
Israelis are accustomed to rapid response preparedness having lived constantly under sudden terror and rocket attack. The Israeli psyche looked on infected people who rode on buses or entered supermarkets with the same disdain as suicide bombers of the past. Such perpetrators are considered by the Israeli public as selfishly endangering the life of others. This mentality brought the vast majority of Israelis to back stringent government measures as saving lives.
This is reflected in the statistics.
Israel and Greece have roughly similar demographics. Israel has a population of 9.3 million. Greece has 10.7. But look at the virus statistics.
Whereas Greece has a low number of infected – 2853, and low death rate of just 168, Israel has a far greater infection number 16,683 but, in proportion, the Israeli death rate is a remarkably low 279.
The Israeli statistics was warped by the undisciplined ultra-religious and Arab communities who were slow to respond to government instructions and needed stronger enforcement to get them to comply. Sadly, both these communities inflated the infection and death numbers. It is estimated that the infected numbers and the death rates would have been at least 60% lower had these Jewish and Arab sectors of Israel’s population responded more speedily to the outbreak. The elderly population also suffered. A number of nursing homes became hotspots of infection.
Anyone flying domestically or overseas are required to be tested at the outer control point to Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport. Anyone with a temperature are barred from entering the airport. Passengers are required to wear masks aboard planes, and other hygiene and cleaning methods are employed on each flight.
Israelis “discovered” Greece after Turkish leader, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, took an aggressively anti-Israel stance some years ago as he adopted a strong Islamist position in his internal affairs and foreign policy. A statement that he made a year ago summed up his regional and global view;
“Whoever is on Israel’s side, we are against them.”
Erdogan is returning Turkey to an Ottoman-type regime. Opposition figures in politics, the media, academia, and the military have been arrested and imprisoned. His foreign policy shows an expansionism in the region as Erdogan attempts to extend into Syria, to Libya and the Mediterranean.
Turkey’s loss was the pending agreement with Israel to partner in the flow of Israel’s Mediterranean natural gas to the Turkish mainland for piping through to Europe.
The breakdown of relations led to the signing in Athens in January 202, of the EastMed agreement that will see billions of cubic meters of Israeli natural gas pumped into Europe using both Cyprus and Greece as the gateways to Europe.
Despite Turkey trying to raise tension, the pipeline will be an economic godsend to both Greece and Cyprus and Israel is pleased with the new strategic alliance with both countries.
It is also a happy time for Israeli vacationers who, in previous years, had flocked to Turkey for both full vacations and weekend stays. When Turkey took a disturbingly negative tone against Israel, Israelis went in search of an alternative and fell in love with Greece.
They love the climate, the food and the music which they find comfortingly familiar.
Israel has also been conducting military exercises with both Greek and Cypriot forces, helping to strengthen the strategic alliance between our countries even further.
Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, on Thursday, May 21, to thank him on the 30-year anniversary of Israel-Greek diplomatic relations.
In the call, Netanyahu told Mitsotakis, “There is enormous demand from Israeli citizens. We see people on talk shows asking ‘when can we go to Greece?’ We want to resume flights and tourism connections with countries with a similar situation, and the most evident one in Greece.”
Talks began between the Israeli Tourism Ministry and its counterparts in Athens and Nicosia two weeks ago to create safe zones for tourism between the countries.
It is hoped that the strategic and economic benefits stemming from the growing alliance will sway both Greece and Cyprus to view Israel’s regional problems in a more favorable light and that both countries will throw their support behind Israel by their votes in both EU and United Nation resolutions that too often condemn Israel with an automatic anti-Israel knee-jerk response from too many European nations.
Barry Shaw is the International Public Diplomacy Director at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.