ATHENS – Israeli President Simon Peres, in Greece for a visit aimed at developing closer relations, said he believes there are opportunities for more investment in the country, especially in tourism and technology and that Israeli business leaders would be interested.
Speaking to Sunday’s To Vima newspaper ahead of his visit, Peres said: “Greece has high mountains, which will bring you tourists but you also need high technology, which will bring you investment,” he said. “About 20 percent of Greece’s land can be cultivated. We can do a lot of things and would be happy if we can help. Quite a few Israeli investors are interested.”
Peres, visiting Greece for the first time, had a meeting scheduled with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. The Israeli leader’s visit followed a trip to Israel last year by his counterpart, Greek President Karolos Papoulias, who signed cooperation deals in various areas, including tourism and energy, and invited him to Greece in return.
Diplomatic sources told Kathimerini that they see Peres’s visit as the continuation of the improvement in ties, which was triggered by a deterioration in relations between Israel and Turkey. Greece has also seen a rise in the number of Israeli tourists visiting the country. Some 400,000 have already taken vacations in Greece this year. Peres wase accompanied by Israeli Agriculture Minister Orit Noked, who said she would hold talks with Greek officials with the aim of exchanging know-how and promoting investment in Greece.
Greece, which has a strong bent toward Arab countries, has boosted ties with Israel in recent years, particularly after Israel’s gradual falling-out with Greece’s regional rival, Turkey. Greek and Israeli military forces have held a string of joint exercises, while Athens is seeking cooperation in investment and energy projects amid Greece’s crushing economic financial crisis. Peres was also due to meet Greek Jewish community leaders.
Security was high for the trip following earlier reports in Greek media that the Greek and Israeli intelligence services were investigating possible threats against Israeli tourists in Greece while Peres was visiting. The president’s trip is the fifth visit by an Israeli high official in the last two years, during which the two countries have boosted their cooperation in the defence sector. “We hope to develop better friendship ties with Greece,’” Peres told Greece’s private television network Mega in an interview. “The country is a friend and we are confronting the same problems.” Peres also replied to a question concerning the possible construction of a new gas pipeline connecting Israel to Europe through Cyprus and Greece saying it is “a geographical and economic need”.