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Why Is Greece Obstructing the Gaza Flotilla? A Gassy Theory

The updates on the flotilla grow more and more delightful. First the IHH pulled its boat, sparking a precipitous drop in the number of ships pledging to participate in the stunt. Then the Turks backed up the Israelis by flatly rejecting the claim by the flotilla organizers that the Irish boat was sabotaged by pro-Israel forces while docked in Turkish waters.

Then, the Greek Coast Guard stopped all Gaza-bound boats leaving its waters and brought them back to Greece, prompting irate sound bites from Hamas about the Greeks’ “inhumanity.” And as if all that weren’t enough, Greek authorities arrested the American skipper of the U.S. boat, “The Audacity of Hope” (which, among its other cargo, was toting a deeply confused Alice Walker. Color Purple fans, follow that link at your peril).

The Turkish turnabout in all this is interesting and important, but what about all that love Greece is sending Israel’s way? What’s all that about?

I ran that by Claire Berlinski in an email. She pointed out that the financial bailout of Greece explains a lot, as indeed it does: Greece’s current position as prostrate recipient of a desperately needed cash infusion would explain any number of dramatic gestures, particularly those that might come at the express behest of the Americans (who provide a fifth of the funding of the IMF, which in turn is paying for more than a quarter of the bailout) and the EU. But is that all there is to it?

I suspect there’s something else going on. Something that has to do with a humongous quantity of natural gas.

You’re no doubt already familiar with the massive gas finds at the Tamar and Leviathan fields off Israel’s Mediterranean coast — finds which have just been supplemented by another reported 6.5 trillion cubic feet at the Myra and Sarah fields, bringing Israel’s natural gas discovery to a staggering 31.1 tcf. Last August, PM Bibi Netanyahu suggested to Greek PM George Papandreou that a pipeline be built to transport Israeli gas to Greece, which wouldn’t object to diversifying its 70%-Russian gas imports. But supplying Greece’s gas needs is the least of it. Israel has its eye on supplying Europe, either with gas via undersea pipeline or with liquified gas transported in tankers. In either case, the logical export hubs would be either Turkey — which has queered its pitch with Israel recently — or Greece.

These solutions would be extremely expensive, but have the potential to be very lucrative for all parties. Netanyahu has gone out of his way to cultivate a friendship with Papandreou over the past year and a half that has resulted in a tangible improvement in relations, including diplomatic favors, greater intelligence communication, and — significantly, in view of Turkey’s closure of airspace to Israel last year — joint exercises between the IAF and the Greek air force. Most importantly, Netanyahu has been a vocal advocate for Greece during its financial struggle. “Netanyahu has become Greece’s lobbyist to the European Union,” an Israeli diplomat said, as quoted in Haaretz.

Greece got its bailout, and when the flotilla showed up, Papandreou did his friend a solid. The relationship between the countries has the potential to be long, fruitful and profitable for both sides. And it leaves Turkey on the sidelines, blinking. To the Greeks, that’s gravy.