Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis told Army Radio Wednesday that Turkey has initiated military exercises aimed at threatening both Israel and Cyprus.
She added that the move was an attempt to assert control over natural gas drilling in the Mediterranean, claiming that Turkey was displaying criminal behavior.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is set to travel to Cyprus Thursday for a one-day
visit – the first time an Israeli prime minister has ever visited the island,
just a 30-minute flight from Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu’s trip shows the degree
to which relations with Cyprus, which until four years ago was considered among
the most hostile countries to Israel in Europe, have dramatically
Now, one diplomatic official said, Cyprus is seen as an
important regional partner for Israel, and together with Greece, Romania and
Bulgaria, it is viewed as a part of a regional alliance serving to
counterbalance Turkey. As was the case with Greece, Israel’s ties with Cyprus
began to blossom as Jerusalem’s relationship with Turkey deteriorated over the
last four years.
Jerusalem sees Cyprus – geographically the closest
European country to Israel – as a possible bridge to Europe, especially in
regard to energy issues.
Energy, and possible cooperation on developing
natural gas deposits in each country’s exclusive economic zones in the eastern
Mediterranean, is also expected to be among Netanyahu’s main topics of discussion
during his visit.
One idea on the agenda is the possibility of building a
gas pipeline to Cyprus, from which the gas could then be exported elsewhere in
Europe. The Delek energy company is interested in a partnership with Cyprus to
build a facility where gas from both countries could be processed and sent
Cyprus’s interest in developing its off-shore natural gas
deposits has created a great deal of tension with Turkey.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned of a “necessary response” if
Cyprus went ahead with its development plans.
Turkey, which has occupied
northern Cyprus since 1974, claims Cyprus does not have the right to exploit the
island’s natural resources and that it cannot ignore the Turkish-Cypriot rights
to those resources.
Earlier in the month, Cyprus media reported that Israel will ask Cyprus to station Israel Air Force fighter jets at a military facility on the island. It is possible that Israel is seeking to establish the base to be able to more effectively protect the growing number of gas fields it is discovering in the Mediterranean Sea.
It is unclear if the request will be to station a permanent presence on the island or to establish a base that can provide logistical support for the IAF during operations in the region.
According to the report in the Famagusta Gazette, the talks are currently at an “exploratory stage” regarding the possibility of using the Andrea Paendreou airbase in Paphos, in southwestern Cyprus. The base reportedly used to host Greek F-16s.
Cyprus played a key
role last year in Israel’s efforts to thwart a protest flotilla that wanted to
set sail for Gaza, consistently refusing to let those ships set sail from its
The European country also quickly sent a helicopter and plane to
Israel in December 2010 to help fight the Carmel Forest fire. Last July, Israel
reciprocated by dispatching 10 generators to the island to relieve an
electricity shortage caused when confiscated Iranian armaments at a navy base
exploded and knocked out one of the country’s main power
Herb Keinon and Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.