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Greece-UAE relations from a personal perspective

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Bilateral relations between two countries are cultivated over time through shared values, partnerships and common interests and strategic concerns. This is the case between the UAE and Greece, as described below from my personal experience.

As part of bilateral military cooperation, United Arab Emirates (UAE) F-16s came to Crete and trained with Greek crews in the Eastern Mediterranean operational environment. Emirates planes have also frequently taken off from Greece during operations in Libya.

Any strategic analyst, to study, understand and then successfully analyze the complex issues of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, should have visited the countries of the region and exchanged views with their citizens and experts.

I visited the UAE as a member of the Greek delegation of the Ministry of Defense, but I was also a member of the team welcoming the UAE military delegations to Greece, for the signing of bilateral programs annual military cooperation meetings.

The first official experience.

The first official visit to the UAE was my participation, as a representative of the Greek Ministry of National Defense, in IDEX-2001 (International Defense Exhibition and Conference). The entire event took place under the patronage of Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Hospitality was excellent with accommodation at the Abu Dhabi Officers Club, an impressive building with a bat-shaped architectural design, with hydrocultures in the interior corridors and beautiful gardens in the surrounding area.

I had at my disposal a luxurious white car with the Greek flag on the windshield and an Emirates Air Force officer as escort. This officer had studied for ten years in the United States, in professional training schools. He was an exceptional professional with military training and strategic thinking.

During a break in the exhibition’s scheduled activities, the attendant offered to give me a “surprise” as he called it and show me something that connects the UAE and Greece. I accepted the challenge. We visited a small port in the north, where colorful boats from Iran were docked. Goods were spread across the dock and onto the boats, creating a large bazaar similar to a flea market. What was strange was that around this particular bazaar there were iron bars and a heavy police presence.

My guide explained to me: “We have serious problems with Iran, but we want to maintain good relations with Iranian citizens through trade. It is for this reason that we authorize the organization of this commercial bazaar at regular intervals.”

Relations between the United Arab Emirates and Greece

“What does this “bazaar” have to do with Greece? I asked, and my escort explained: “Iran claims the UAE islands and has carried out a military operation on the oil well island of Abu Musa, as well as on the Little and Great Tunb islets. These are located near the entrance to the Gulf, inside the Strait of Hormuz. Due to the depth of the sea, large ships must pass between Abu-Musa and Tunb, giving these occupied islands great geostrategic importance, which Iran has exploited since its military occupation.

The UAE has submitted a formal proposal to the UN for a negotiated settlement of disputes with the aim of a final settlement at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), based on international law. On the contrary, Iran has militarized the conflict by occupying the islands with military forces. The Iranians do not accept the validity of international law for these islands, because, as they believe, they historically belonged to the Persian Empire and were occupied by the British, who later ceded them to the United Arab Emirates under an international treaty. The Iranians do not respect this international treaty.

In conclusion, my companion mentioned that the tension in the relations between the UAE and Iran resembles the corresponding relations between Greece and Turkey, especially after the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus. “Our collaborators monitor and analyze Greece’s handling of Turkish aggression, both diplomatic and military, and draw useful conclusions that we apply in our relations with Iran. This is our unique strategic relationship with Greece,” he told me.

Turkish Ministry of Defense Industry

As part of the IDEX exhibition, the Turkish Deputy Minister of Defense Industry invited all participants to a reception in one of the region’s luxury hotels. After appropriate advice from the Greek Ambassador Zoes, I accepted the invitation. The evening of the reception, I contacted the Turkish Deputy Minister for the official reception. The “allied” official offered me the emblem of his vice-ministry, saying: “I want you to receive as a gift from me the emblem which symbolizes the efforts to develop the Turkish defense industry. We plan to be self-sufficient in the production of weapons systems within a decade. »

The emblem was a red glass ladybug with a large eye on the right spine. I thanked him and walked over to my companion who witnessed the brief conversation and commented: “The Turks are very present at this IDEX. They are trying to obtain Arab funds to develop their defense industry.” Within a decade, they managed to gain access to Arab funds from Qatar, while in 2013, following their favorite tactic, they managed to establish a military installation in Doha.

For the Hellenic Aeronautical Industry (HAI)

In 2009, I visited the UAE again as part of a delegation from the Directorate of International Relations of the Ministry of Defence/National Defense HQ. One of the topics discussed was related to the Hellenic Aviation Industry (HAI). The technical ground staff of the UAE Air Force have been trained in the past at the Hellenic Aviation Industry (HAI) in Greece. The UAE officers resided in the town of Chalkida, approximately 80 km north of Athens, contributing to some extent to the economic life of the town. Chalkidian friends had informed me that the Emirati military were very friendly and popular with the locals.

The training of the general staff of the United Arab Emirates Air Force was interrupted after an unfortunate moment of misunderstanding that arose between representatives of the police and Greek diplomatic authorities at the expense of the Sheikh when his plane carried out an unscheduled landing at Athens Hellenikon International Airport in March. 2000.

Being in the UAE, I requested to meet Colonel Mohammed, who was the leader of the last group of UAE technicians trained at HAI. As part of traditional Arab hospitality, the Colonel offered a working dinner. During the exchange, he spoke of the pleasant memories he kept from his stay in Chalkida, but also the professionalism with which HAI organized the training of the technicians he supervised. Of course, the decision to resume technical training was far from the colonel’s competence, but he promised to work to support the resumption of bilateral cooperation between Greece and the United Arab Emirates for the training of army technicians from the United Arab Emirates to Greece.

Finally, after ten years, the efforts were successful and in 2019, an agreement was signed to restart the training of UAE Air Force technicians in HAI.

The last official visit to the United Arab Emirates.

In November 2011, I visited the United Arab Emirates again, as a representative of the Hellenic Ministry of Defense. During this visit, an extremely important event occurred, precisely on the opening day of the Air Show and more precisely on the day of the official reception. All guests formed a line in front of the host, Sheikh Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The introduction and greeting protocol was a formal process that took place in a calm, repetitive pattern.

When I approached the Sheikh and introduced myself as a representative of the Greek Ministry of National Defense, something spectacular happened. Leaving formalities aside, the Sheikh grabbed me by the shoulders and asked with genuine interest: “How is Greece handling the economic crisis? Will she be able to overcome he?” Impressed by the Sheikh’s reaction, I replied: “Your Highness, those of us who love Greece will help it deal with the economic problems created by the recent international crisis..” “Yes, this is indeed what we need to do” he has answered.

Once the reception was over, I headed out of the room to watch an aerobatics demonstration. Suddenly I felt a light tap on the shoulder. When I turned around, I saw a gentleman in a gray suit, who asked me politely: “Excuse me, do you know the Sheikh personally?” Because it comes out in your conversation. I told him that it was the first time I had met him in person, but that we were bonded by our common interest in Greece’s economic future. The gentleman nodded and handed me his card. He was the Defense Minister of India.

Thoughts and conclusion.

The strategic threat faced by the UAE from Iran is comparable to the strategic threat faced by Greece from Turkey. To counter this threat, the national defense policy formulated in the two friendly countries is almost identical. On this basis, it is possible to develop relationships that are not temporary and situational, but strategic cooperation that will be strong through mutual understanding and respect.

The development of the Greek defense industry suffers from the lack of vision, political determination and long-term strategic planning. There are great opportunities for collaboration between the UAE and Greece in the field of defense industry. On the other hand, the competitive Turkish defense industry, despite its structural problems, managed in a single decade, after managing to receive Arab funds from Qatar, not only to develop and cover a large part of the needs of the Turkish armed forces , but also to export defense systems. .


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