In the 21st chapter of his magisterial 1948 history of the Second World War, Winston Churchill began with an arresting statement: ‘The Greeks rival the Jews in being the most politically-minded race in the world.’
In his distinctive tongue-in-cheek yet insightful style, he explained:
‘Wherever there are three Jews there will be found two Prime Ministers and one leader of the Opposition. The same is true of this other famous ancient race, whose stormy and endless struggle for life stretches back to the fountain springs of human thought.’
Seventy-three years after they were written, these racial generalisations may ring dissonant in certain 21st century ears. But they resonated this week, when Israel and Greece confirmed their growing friendship with their largest ever defence deal, including an eye-watering £1.2 billion contract for a new Hellenic Air Force training centre.
The alliance of the two nations – emerging after years of Greek hostility towards the Jewish state – seemed to encapsulate both the ‘endless struggle for life’ and the ‘political-mindedness’ that Churchill had identified. And they formed an object lesson for other European states, which will continue to court Iran in Vienna this week.
Take Churchill’s ‘endless struggle for life’. In the past two years, Greece has suffered increasing hostility from Turkey. There have been serious cyber attacks, belligerence from Ankara’s coast guard and navy, provocative incursions into disputed oil and gas fields, and the closing of Turkish airspace to Greek officials. Further afield, from Syria to the caucuses, Erdoğan is emerging as a Putin-style meddler and Athens is increasingly nervous. A Greek bond with Israel, the Middle East’s foremost military power, makes sense.
From Israel’s point of view, Turkey has been mutating in recent years into a strategic foe.