Just two months after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Cyprus, Foreign
Minister Avigdor Liberman will visit on Monday to push forward implementation of
a recently signed search-and-rescue agreement.
Netanyahu and Cypriot
President Demetris Christofias signed the agreement in February, but Israeli
officials – recognizing the sensitivity of anything smacking of a security
agreement – quickly denied at the time that it had any military significance.
Rather, they said the agreement – signed during the first ever visit to Cyprus
by an Israeli prime minister – only dealt with assistance the two countries
would give one another in a time of crisis.
Cyprus sent a plane and
helicopter to help Israel fight the Mount Carmel Forest fire in December 2010,
and Israel sent generators to Cyprus after an explosion last year knocked out
the country’s main power plant.
Government officials said that Liberman,
on his two-day visit, would work to move the search-and-rescue agreement from a
paper agreement into something practical on the ground, and also to include
other nations in the region, such as Bulgaria, Greece and Romania.
once had a similar agreement with Turkey, but it lapsed as a result of the
deteriorating ties between the two countries.
Because of Turkey’s tense
relations in the eastern Mediterranean with Israel, Cyprus and Greece,
agreements such as these are quite sensitive and raise questions whether they
could be the first steps toward a strategic alliance.
pact will open the way for air and naval maneuvers in and around Cyprus. Some
argue that Cyprus is keen on such an agreement as it explores – much to Turkey’s
chagrin and in spite of Ankara’s threats – for gas in its exclusive economic
Netanyahu, during his visit, danced around the question of whether
Israel would provide security for the Cypriot gas field, which lies close to
Israeli natural-gas deposits.
Israel’s relations with Cyprus, as well as
with Greece, sky-rocketed with the sharp deterioration in Israel’s ties with
Turkey, although Israeli officials have said the reason for the dramatic change
was not only Turkey, but also economic and other mutual interests. Netanyahu has
spoken repeatedly in recent months about a regional alliance that includes
Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria.
In addition to meeting
Christofias, Liberman – who visited Cyprus last year – is also scheduled to meet
Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, Industry, Commerce and Tourism
Minister Neoklis Sylikiotis, and opposition leader Nicos
Liberman’s visit comes just 10 weeks before Cyprus takes
over the rotating EU presidency on July 1.
Over the last few weeks there
have been a number of multi-national maneuvers in the eastern
Mediterranean. Israel, the US and Greece held one at the beginning of the
month, and France and Cyprus carried out a joint search-and-rescue maneuver in