Greece has for centuries maintained close ties with the Arab world, the Greek Orthodox patriarch says, but those ties have not kept it safe from Arab terrorism.
"We Greeks cannot just forget over a thousand years of common heritage because of an historically recent spate of terrorism," said Diodoros, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, whose flock is almost entirely Arab.
Since 1981, Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou has cultivated this common heritage. His foreign policy stand--especially his close ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization and such radical Arab states as Libya and Syria--has brought harsh criticism from his Western allies.
And it hasn't bought freedom from Arab terrorism.
Government critics claim that the recent assassination in Athens of a high-ranking PLO official has made Athens again an international center for terrorism and espionage.
Not a New Stance
Papandreou's decision to stand by Syria, snubbing Britain in the process, is not new. In May, he refused to impose diplomatic sanctions on another state accused of sponsoring terrorism--Libya.
Western diplomats say that Greece has tacit agreements with the PLO, Libya and Syria prohibiting acts of Arab terrorism on Greek soil.
But this understanding did not prevent the assassination this month of Brig. Monder Jaoudad Abu Gazala, 44, described by the PLO's diplomatic representative in Athens as commander of the PLO navy.
Three other high-ranking PLO officials have been assassinated in Athens since 1983. In June, unknown assailants shot to death Col. Khaled Ahmed Nazal, 38, a senior member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, outside a downtown Athens hotel.
Other victims of terrorism in Greece have included U.S. CIA personnel, U.S. Navy and Air Force officers, diplomats from Western and moderate Arab states, and Libyans and Syrians opposed to their country's leaders. None of the assailants has been caught.
Papandreou's Socialist government, which believes it can act as a bridge between the Arab world and the West, sees many benefits in cooperating with radical Arab states.
Alternate Foreign Minister Theodore Pangalos believes that the Greek role is vital if Western Europe is to continue to have a say in the Middle East peace process. Cutting diplomatic relations with Syria, as Britain did, was like cutting off your nose to spite your face, he said.
The Socialists have also exploited their close ties with hard-line Arab states--and the tension it creates in relations with the West--to sway leftist voters who might otherwise support the small but powerful Communist Party.
Trade Is Crucial
Papandreou's Arab connections, including support for the Palestinian cause, have failed to attract the kind of investments he hoped. But Middle East trade remains crucial for the stagnant Greek economy.
U.S. experts believe that terrorism in the Mediterranean, including Greece, is likely to increase.