Israeli leader pays historic visit to Cyprus

Feb 16, 2012, 6:10 PM

Associated Press

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a historic visit to Cyprus on Thursday, aiming to strengthen what he declared to be a “natural relationship” between the two countries in a volatile and quickly changing region.

The visit was the first ever by an Israeli leader to the nearby island nation, which along with Israel has natural gas interests in the Mediterranean and is coping with rising tensions with Turkey. Hours before Netanyahu’s arrival, the Turks threatened to halt Nicosia from exploring in waters that Ankara says do not belong to Cyprus.

“I came here to develop our bilateral ties, our economic ties and ties in the field of energy,” Netanyahu said after talks with Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias. “We’re interested in developing peaceful relations for the benefit of our two countries and the region as a whole.”

In an apparent nod to Turkey, he added, “We have no ulterior motives and no hidden motives here.”

The two leaders discussed cooperation in energy matters, agriculture and tourism, he said, and signed an agreement to offer reciprocal aid in search and rescue missions at sea. Netanyahu also said Israel was exploring the possibility of building a joint pipeline with Cyprus to export some of the offshore gas deposits to Europe and Asia.

Although Cyprus is only a 50-minute flight away from Tel Aviv, ties between the two have long been chilly.

Nicosia has long backed the Palestinians in their quest for an independent state and looked on warily as Israel built military and trade relations with regional powerhouse Turkey, which doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a sovereign state and has occupied its north since 1974.

But Israel’s relations with Turkey have deteriorated dramatically over the past three years, while Cyprus has been looking to cement ties with neighbors as a bulwark against Ankara’s growing regional influence. Also, Cyprus can’t rely as before on top ally, Greece, which is grappling with crushing financial problems.

Another bridge between Israel and Cyprus has been the discovery of huge offshore natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea. The same U.S. company, Noble Energy, is leading the exploration efforts in both countries. It estimates finds of more than 25 trillion cubic meters in Israeli waters and up to 230 billion cubic meters in Cypriot waters.

Turkey opposes any Greek Cypriot oil and gas search that denies breakaway Turkish Cypriots what it contends is a rightful claim to gas wealth. And it has dismissed a Cypriot-Israeli deal demarcating their maritime borders as null and void.

In a statement released Wednesday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry warned that Ankara would “take all necessary measures to protect its rights and interests.” Unilateral steps by the Greek Cypriots, “would inevitably lead to an escalation of tension in the region,” it added.

Christofias condemned the statement, asserting Cyprus had a sovereign right to explore the waters under international law that Turkey must respect.

“Cooperation between Israel and Cyprus is a threat to no one whatsoever. It serves only peaceful aims,” Christofias said. “It’s Turkey that’s threatening us … the troublemaker is Turkey, not cooperation between Cyprus and Israel.”

Last year, Ankara dispatched a warship-escorted research vessel to look for fuel in waters off Cyprus’ southern coast, provoking Christofias to demand the Turks abandon their “gunboat diplomacy.”

Cyprus was split into an internationally recognized Greek-speaking south and a breakaway Turkish-speaking north in 1974 after Turkey invaded following a coup attempt by supporters of union with Greece.

Until recently, Turkey was Israel’s strongest ally in the Muslim world but those ties frayed badly over Palestinian casualties during Israel’s 2009 war in the Gaza Strip. Relations took another blow after Israeli commandoes killed nine Turks aboard a Turkish-led flotilla that tried to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza in May 2010.

The rupture with Turkey and the rise of Islamic parties in the wake of the Arab Spring have made Israel more vulnerable in a region already hostile to the Jewish state and forced it to look for other alliances.

“There is no doubt that the loss of Turkey pushed Israel in the direction of Greece and Cyprus,” said Alon Liel, a former director of Israel’s foreign ministry and one-time envoy to Turkey. “With Cyprus it has become more significant because of the gas.”

Energy security is a strategic concern for any country, but Israel has other interests in courting Cyprus, said Tim Potier, political analyst and law professor at the University of Nicosia.

“Israel is looking to strengthen bonds with a fast-dwindling list of friendly neighbors as one-time regional friends and allies have turned into potential rivals amid the tumult of the Arab Spring,” Potier said. “Cyprus’ EU membership, proximity and own gas wealth potential make the island a natural ally for an increasingly isolated Israel.”

But Liel also said the growing Israel-Cyprus alliance could hurt Israel by driving Turkey even further into the camp of Hamas militants who rule Gaza.

“They (the Turks) see Israel aiding Cyprus and in return, they will want to aid Hamas,” he said.

___

Associated Press writer Aron Heller contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

World News

This illustration made available by Johns Hopkins APL and NASA depicts NASA's DART probe, upper rig...
Associated Press

NASA spacecraft smashes into asteroid for defense test

A NASA spacecraft rammed an asteroid at blistering speed Monday in an unprecedented dress rehearsal for the day a killer rock menaces Earth.
5 days ago
In this Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Pres...
Associated Press

At least 9 killed as Iran protests over woman’s death spread

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters angry over the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody have killed at least nine people since the violence erupted over the weekend, according to a tally Thursday by The Associated Press. The scope of Iran’s ongoing unrest, the worst in […]
9 days ago
Royal guards stand by the coffin of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, as members of the public pay thei...
Associated Press

Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral | Live updates

WINDSOR, England — Queen Elizabeth II has been interred together with her late husband, Prince Philip, at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, officials said. The royal family’s official website said the Dean of Windsor conducted a private burial ceremony late Monday at the King George VI Memorial Chapel, an annex inside St. George’s, a […]
12 days ago
Britain's King Charles III and Camilla, the Queen Consort leave after a Service of Prayer and Refle...
Associated Press

Live updates: Queen’s funeral police effort is biggest ever

LONDON — London police say Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral on Monday will be the largest single policing event the force has ever handled. Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy said Friday that the massive police operation surpasses even the 2012 Olympics, which were held in the British capital, and the celebrations earlier this year […]
15 days ago
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a medical worker takes a swab sample from a resident ...
Associated Press

WHO: COVID end ‘in sight,’ deaths at lowest since March 2020

GENEVA (AP) — The head of the World Health Organization said Wednesday that the number of coronavirus deaths worldwide last week was the lowest reported in the pandemic since March 2020, marking what could be a turning point in the years-long global outbreak. At a press briefing in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said […]
17 days ago
Kenya's new president William Ruto signs the book of condolence for Queen Elizabeth II at the resid...
Associated Press

Live updates: Public views queen’s coffin in ancient hall

LONDON — Members of the public who waited outside for many hours are filing through Westminster Hall to pay their respects at the queen’s coffin, which is lying in state there. People are filing past each side of the coffin, most pausing for a brief moment to bow their heads. Some wiped their eyes while […]
17 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
Israeli leader pays historic visit to Cyprus