The agreement was reached after Saudi Oil Company Aramco was targeted by Yemeni forces on several occasions, and the country sought to increase its anti-aircraft power. The US-made Patriot air defense system will be used to protect important energy facilities in Saudi Arabia. Earlier, the issue of arms sales to Saudi Arabia by Greece had been debated in the Greek parliament.
The meeting is seen as another step in deepening Greece’s relations with key players and main elements beyond the Persian Gulf-North Africa-Middle East. During this trip, the agreement on the deployment of the armed forces of the two countries was finally signed after a delay of several months. In fact, it paves the way for the installation of the Patriot missile system and deployment of its staff (probably 100 to 120 Greek Air Force personnel) in Saudi Arabia. Greece thus joins the multinational force comprising the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Jordan and Pakistan, which are involved in Saudi air defense. During the visit, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Greece and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council by Mr. Dendias and Mr. Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf, the Secretary General of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, to establish political consultations on issues of common interest.
In addition to the deployment of the Patriot anti-aircraft missile system, the agreement also provides for the deployment of Greek forces inside Saudi oil facilities. Greece will benefit from US military expertise and equipment in Saudi Arabia. It is worth mentioning that following the airstrikes of the Yemeni fighters on Saudi Arabia and its oil and military facilities and the inability of the air defense system of that country, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, thought of a new defense system.
This measure by Greece can be considered as a serious step towards the fundamental improvement of bilateral relations and Greek relations with the Persian Gulf countries. Athens’ conservative leaders claim the measure is part of their share in securing Western energy resources. It seems that Greece’s foreign policy, one of the targets of which is to connect the country to the Persian Gulf countries, has taken a step forward.
Participation of the Greek Air Force in the Saudi air defense has become a political and operational priority. Saudi Arabia has accepted an invitation from the Greek side for the participation of its fighters in military exercises in Greece. Greece and Saudi Arabia had reached a political agreement in early 2020 on sending a Patriot system and accompanying personnel to Saudi Arabia.
One of the targets of Greece in this agreement is to form a strategic alliance with the Arab countries in the region. The agreement includes deployment of Greek Air Force Patriot PAC-3 missile systems with a group of Greek pilots to train Saudi personnel. Greece’s move towards military cooperation with Saudi Arabia is due to US pressure on Athens military presence in the Persian Gulf region.
Greece claims that participation of Arab countries in the recent military exercises in the country whose target was the “scenarios of air battles, air-to-ground attacks, countering the threat of advanced rocket attacks and military operations in the enemy territory, is not a matter of balance of power but of creating an “understanding front” under international law. According to Athens, all trans-regional countries, without exception, which base international law on understanding and conduct, can participate in the “understanding front” that Greece is seeking.
There is an extensive cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries, and recently Saudi F-15 jet fighters for three weeks were present on the island of Crete to conduct joint air maneuvers called the “Eagle Eye 1” with Greek forces at the military base “Souda”, which caused concerns and reactions of Turkey.
Athens agreement with Riyadh to transfer and launch the Patriot system to Saudi Arabia was, of course, met with opposition in Greece. The Left Coalition Party (Second Party), which handed over power to the ruling party in 2019, believes the decision goes beyond the legitimate efforts of Greek diplomacy to strengthen cooperation with important trans-regional countries, including Saudi Arabia. Greece’s long-standing policy is based on that deployment of equipment and personnel of the armed forces abroad should take place only within the context of the operations of international organizations of which Greece is a member. The party has raised its ambiguities about the content of the signed agreement, the way it was approved by the parliament, the possible dangers for Greek military personnel, and whether this would not undermine the country’s ability. The “European Realist Disobedience Front”, in its revelatory positions, has legitimized the visit of Greek ministers to Saudi assassins who have been isolated and discredited by their most fanatical allies. According to the party, no Western government, not even US officials, has visited Saudi Arabia since the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, so the trip has been severely criticized.
On dispute between Greece and Turkey, Saudi Arabia by holding a joint exercise, has declared its support for Athens in this case so that it can have the upper hand in the disputes between Riyadh and Ankara, such as the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the roots of the traditional differences between Turkey and Greece as the two neighboring countries go back to many years ago, but in recent years the Saudis have always tried to keep the heat of those differences warm. Evidence shows that Greece’s military cooperation with the Middle East is not limited to Saudi Arabia, which has already begun cooperation with the UAE. In August 2020, as tensions between Greece and Turkey escalated, the Emirati deployed four F-16 jet fighters to the Greek island of Crete. The move was a clear sign of cooperation between the two countries, which strongly oppose Turkey’s policies.