The visit of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Greece is the culmination of old relations that took their origin in ancient times and continued throughout successive periods until the present day. And these relations were evident all through the civilizations that existed on the Arabian Peninsula.
This was not limited to trade exchange alone but also included cultural and scientific interactions. The differences in language and religion or the cultures of the desert and the Mediterranean were not an obstacle to deepening that communication.
If we examine the inception of Saudi-Greek relations in the modern era, it dates back to the year 1926. It was strengthened in 1943 when Athens established an embassy in Jeddah. The biggest boost in the history of relations between the two sides came with the outbreak of the October/Ramadan War of 1973 between the Arabs and Israel.
Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries decided to exempt Greece from the announced ban on the export of Arab oil to the West. This exemption was reciprocated with a sweet response from Greece when it refused permission to cross its territory by the American fighters, who formed an air bridge to supply Israel with American equipment so as to bring about a change in the balance of the war.
But the most powerful impetus for Saudi-Greek relations came during the reign of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Former Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos visited Riyadh in 2017, accompanied by 11 Greek ministers.
In March 2021, the fighters of the Royal Saudi Air Force participated in joint exercises with Greek fighters at the air base on the island of Crete. In April 2021, a defense agreement was signed and the scope of cooperation between Riyadh and Athens expanded to turn into an unprecedented regional partnership, which includes Saudi Arabia, Greece, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and Cyprus.
There is no doubt that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Athens in 2022 will take the Saudi-Greek partnership to a new phase, at a time when the world is facing complex and multiple challenges. Greece continued to adhere to Saudi Arabia’s right to live in safety, without any dangers threatening its oil facilities, which were repeatedly attacked by the Houthis with missiles and Iranian drones laden with explosives. Greece was wise and courageous in the sense that its relationship with Tehran did not prevent it from warning it against the consequences of targeting Saudi Arabia as well as engaging in any possible sabotage operations.
In clarifying the importance of Saudi-Greek relations, we cannot overlook the fact that Greece, from which emanated the Western and European philosophy of ruling, is an active member of the European Union, with which the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is working to sign trade agreements for mutual benefits. Just as Athens deals with diplomacy in balancing its relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran, Saudi diplomacy is equally adept at balancing Riyadh’s relations with both Ankara and Athens.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Greece will add a feather to the cap of achievements that Saudi diplomacy has been scoring since Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and the Crown Prince took over the country’s leadership in 2015. It is an additional victory after what Saudi diplomacy achieved by holding the 6 + 3 + 1 summit that was recently hosted in Jeddah and what came out of bilateral and joint summits, and the consequent strengthening of the Gulf-Arab-American partnership, in an era characterized by turmoil, greed, and unrest.
It is certain that Greece will also be a new destination of success for the Crown Prince’s diplomacy, as it is his first visit to a Western country since 2018. It will pave the way for similar visits by the young Saudi leader to other European countries that are eager to strengthen their ties with Saudi Arabia in the wake of a new geopolitical reality following the conflict in Ukraine and the fallouts of the coronavirus pandemic on the global economy.
The second leg of the Crown Prince’s European journey is no less important than the first one to Greece. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will be the guest of President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. It is worthy to note that Macron’s last meeting with the Crown Prince was in Jeddah in December 2021.
The Crown Prince visited Paris in April 2018 after concluding a trip to the United States, which included activities and meetings from coast to coast. The 2018 Paris trip resulted in the signing of 14 memoranda of understanding between the two countries.
It was not an ordinary state visit. Rather, the visit was dedicated to strengthening the friendship and partnership between the two countries, especially since Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Macron belong to the youth group. The spirit of challenge in both of them can explicitly be seen in their insistence on achieving goals and objectives, and overcoming multiple hurdles to resolve regional and global crises.