NICOSIA – With Turkey warning Cyprus Thursday not to explore or develop its
offshore gas reserves, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Cypriot President
Demetris Christofias pledged at a joint press conference to enhance cooperation
in the energy field.
Netanyahu, however, danced around the question of
whether Israel would provide security for the Cypriot gas field in its exclusive
economic zone, which lies close to Israeli natural-gas deposits.
Christofias and Netanyahu denied that Israel was asking Cyprus for use of its
Paphos air base. “This item was not even on the agenda,” Christofias
The countries signed a bilateral search-and-rescue agreement, but
Israeli officials denied that it had any military significance, and that the
agreement 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
One official, denying this was a military agreement in camouflage,
said Israel has the same kind of agreement with Turkey.
In addition to
meeting Christofias, Netanyahu also met during his one-day trip – the first ever
to the island by an Israeli prime minister – with Cyprus Foreign Minister Erato
Kozakou-Marcoullis, and opposition head Nicos Anastassiades.
the issue of gas exploration and cooperation was the main item on the agenda,
Turkey hovered over the meeting, with Christofias slamming the country’s threats
a number of times during the press conference. Netanyahu did not mention Turkey
Israel’s relations with Cyprus, as well as with Greece, skyrocketed
with the sharp deterioration in Israel’s ties with Turkey, although Israeli
officials said the reason for the dramatic change was not only Turkey, but also
economic and other mutual interests. Nevertheless, Netanyahu has spoken in the
past about a regional alliance that includes Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Romania and
Netanyahu praised the Cypriot president, Europe’s only
Communist head of state, for developing relations with Israel, and said that it
took 63 years to make the 45-minute flight from Israel to Cyprus.
came here to develop bilateral economic ties in the field of energy, and we are
interested in developing them for the benefit of our countries and the region as
a whole,” Netanyahu said. “We have no ulterior motives or hidden motives, this
is our motive and what we want: peaceful mutual relations for the benefit and
prosperity of our people and the region.”
Christofias said that Israeli-
Cypriot cooperation should not be seen as a threat to anyone.
cooperation only serves the “people and progress,” he said. “It is not Cyprus
that threatens Turkey, but Turkey that is threatening Cyprus. We will continue
to cooperate, and the true troublemaker is Turkey, not the Israel- Cyprus
Christofias called on the international community “and
especially the European Union to send a strong message to Turkey that it must
stop violating and start respecting international law – especially if it looks
forward to becoming a member of the European family.”
responding to Turkey’s threat not to proceed with a second round of licensing
for offshore oil and gas in its exclusive economic zone.
While Israel has
made huge gas discoveries in its waters, Cyprus is only beginning to discover
fields, something that is infuriating the Turks because they argue that any
natural resources found off Cyprus should be split with the northern part of the
country, which it has occupied since 1974.
“We’ve had seven drills in
Israel, and seven hits, and there are still some 50 other plots,” Netanyahu said
of Israel’s gas finds.
“You are now exploring your potential reserves,”
he said to the Cypriot president. “Our view is that if we can cooperate, the sum
of the parts would be greater than the individual parts.”
Israel and Cyprus agreed to conduct feasibility studies regarding ways to
cooperate, and that the reports should be ready in eight weeks.
issues still to be determined is whether a gas-processing plant would be built in
Cyprus for export of gas westward to Europe, or rather in Israel – possibly near
Eilat – for export eastward, to Asia.
During his visit, Netanyahu met
with Yonatan, a security guard at the embassy with whom he spoke to a number of
months ago in Cairo when Yonatan protected the embassy from a mob that ransacked
During that incident, Yonatan – who feared that he would not come out
alive – asked Netanyahu to speak to his parents directly if anything happened to