With conflicts in the Middle East and Egypt not far from its borders, intelligence agents in the region – including Greece – need to keep close links of co-operation to ferret out trouble and identify flashpoints, a security conference held here was told.
The International Intelligence History Association (IIHA) in collaboration with the Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS) organized the event Intelligence in the Mediterranean and the Balkans which brought together academics, historians, members of the private sector, political scientists, researchers, active and former intelligence officials and members of the security and armed forces to explore the history of intelligence and the current security challenges facing the Mediterranean and the Balkan regions.
It was the brainchild of John Nomikos, who heads the Athens-based RIEAS, and is a well-known security analyst specializing in in transatlantic intelligence studies, intelligence reform, and national security architecture. Educated and trained in the U.S., he has done research and studied in various research institutions in America, the UK, Norway, Finland, Germany and Israel and is a noted international counter-terrorism analyst.
A former Greek deputy foreign minister of Greece, Konstantinos Tsiaras referred to his country’s pivotal strategic position between three continents and its role as an important sea-trade that has historically attracted the interest of powers outside the region.
“This situation resulted in a uniquely high concentration of different actors and overlapping interests. Under these circumstances, the need to maintain awareness anticipate future outcomes and protect against potential threats was served by all countries in the region making the Mediterranean the theater of numerous intelligence operations,” he said. He added that, “Our region has witnessed more intelligence gathering activities in the course of history than any other place in the world”.
Tsiaras said that, “The security interdependence among all countries in the region is perhaps one of the key lessons learnt from our common historical experience. Furthermore, it is a valuable lesson in the light of more recent geopolitical developments such as the Arab Spring. In a time of geopolitical shift, information awareness can be very helpful in maintaining regional trust and good relations among the regional actors.”
Special attention was given to the transition from authoritarian/conflict intelligence agencies to democratic control and oversight, terrorism in North Africa, Olympic intelligence with regards to the CBRN preparations for the Athens Olympic Games, regional security challenges in South East Europe presenting the cases of Greece, Serbia and Romania.
Under the theme of Between the Arab Spring and the European Debt Crisis: Contemporary Intelligence and Security Issues in the Region, the 2013 conference highlighted the new political realities in the Middle East, the security challenges of the Arab Spring that Jordan faces, as well as the age of social media and the implications of the Arab Spring for the intelligence community.
The welcoming remarks were made by Shlomo Shpiro, Chairman of IIHA and Nomikos. Referring to the theme of this year’s conference and its focus on the Mediterranean and the Balkans, Spiro said: “These regions in particular not only have rich and diversified history of intelligence but are facing turmoil and difficult challenges even today.
“The revolutions in the Arab world, the bloody civil war in Syria, Iran’s nuclear program, the situation in Turkey, in Egypt and Cyprus, the euro-debt crisis and the threats of global terrorism, all mean that governments all over the world and in this region especially, are increasingly turning to their intelligence services for knowledge, for early warning and for policy advice, on how to make better decisions in such times of uncertainty.” He concluded that, “Intelligence today is a central tool of state craft of international relations and of regional security”.
The Israeli Ambassador to Greece, Arie Mekel said that, “We all know the turmoil, the problems throughout the region and it is not new to any of us, we are not involved in that, we watch it like everybody else… we are spectators, we are concerned, we hope that there will be no spill over for instance of the situation in Syria into our neighbor Lebanon and so on”.
He noted the difficulty of finding peace in the Middle East over the decades with many U.N. envoys, U.S. Presidents and international officials all failing. “For many years, many people in the world including our friends, said to us the most important, the most dangerous problem in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If you would have solved this, everything in the Middle East would be fine. I think that now, everybody would agree that even if we would have a Palestinian state tomorrow morning, this could do nothing to resolve the situation in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria,” he said.
He added: “We want to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem not to do a favor to anybody but to do a favor to ourselves. We believe in the two-state solution so that there will be two states; one Israel for the Jews and one Palestine for the Palestinians. …. Right now we are in the midst of another effort, this time, by Secretary of State John Kerry to get the two parties to the table and we hope it will be successful if we can resume the peace process”.
He emphasized regional energy cooperation by saying: “We’ve told the Greek government on the highest level that we would be happy to make Greece a hub for this gas that will continue to Europe; it can be brought here by pipeline or by liquidifying it and bringing it by tanker; we also want Cyprus to be involved in this because they also found gas and we believe that these three countries, Israel, Greece and Cyprus, if we work together and use our power like in the area of natural gas, we could become together a regional power that will be able to stand up to other regional powers”.
In a nod to tighter relations between Greece and Israel, he said that, “In the last three years, we have seen a dramatic upgrade, a dramatic change in the relations between Israel and Greece, and it is expressed in many ways in the area of defense. There is a lot of cooperation especially between the two navies, the two air forces, tourism – 400 thousand Israelis were here last year, we hope to have half a million this year, a very significant number.”