NICOSIA – The leaders of Israel, Greece and Cyprus adopted a joint cooperation declaration in Nicosia on Thursday, which diplomatic officials in Jerusalem hailed as nothing less than a “strategic alliance” in the eastern Mediterranean.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades all hailed as “historic” the declaration that spelled out the areas where the three countries pledged to cooperate.
Speaking alongside the other two leaders after meetings in the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Netanyahu said that as the son of a historian he was averse to using the term “historic.”
Nevertheless, the term applied to this meeting, he said.
“I believe this meeting has historic implications,” he said. “The last time Greeks, Cypriots and Jews sat around a table and talked on a common framework was 2,000 years ago.”
The prime minister said the three countries could better promote “stability, security, prosperity and peace” by working together, rather than separately.
The joint declaration stressed that this new axis is not exclusive, and – in a nod to Egypt and even Turkey – stated that the three countries would gladly welcome other states that have similar goals into the alliance.
During the public statements after the meetings, both Anastasiades and Tsipras stressed – without mentioning Turkey by name – that this cooperation was not “against anyone else.”
Netanyahu did not make any direct or indirect reference to Turkey in his statement. But on his way back to Israel, he told reporters that Israel was – in parallel with developments with Greece and Cyprus – trying to normalize ties with Ankara.
“This obligates preserving Israel’s vital interests,” he said, “but in the event that they are preserved, there is nothing preventing us from normalizing ties [with Turkey].”
The joint declaration with Greece and Cyprus pledges closer cooperation in seven fields: energy, tourism, research and technology, environment, water management, anti-terrorism and migration.
The declaration includes a clause expressing support for the unification of Cyprus and backing the UN efforts to solve the Cyprus-Turkish dispute “on the basis of international law and the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.” The leaders also expressed hope that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians would resume and culminate in a “just, sustainable solution.”
Netanyahu told reporters that he stressed to the two leaders that their desire for the EU to assist in negotiations is not being matched by the positions the EU is taking. The EU’s stances are giving support to the Palestinians’ “all or nothing” positions, thereby distancing them from negotiations, he said.
During his public statement in Nicosia, Netanyahu said Israel, Cyprus and Greece decided to form a trilateral committee to examine the possibility of laying a gas pipeline from Israel to Cyprus, and then to Greece for export further on in Europe.
He also said the three countries are working on creating an “interconnected underwater cable” to connect their electricity grids.
“You can also export gas through electricity,” he said.
Netanyahu told reporters Israel’s current gas capabilities are capable of handling pipelines going both to Egypt and to Turkey.
“In addition, if the development of our gas fields will bring the development of other fields, the third option [through Cyprus to Greece] would also be viable, and would be a clear pipeline to Europe.”
This will depend, however, on how much additional gas is discovered, “so we are preparing for all of the options at once,” he said.
“It needs to be understood that Israel as a power in the regional energy market is something new,” he added. “The interests of Greece and Cyprus and [some] Arab states, those who have energy and those who do not, is to strengthen alliances with Israel.”
Netanyahu attributed this to the dramatic changes in the region since the Arab Spring, and also to the “meteoric rise” of Israeli technology in the world’s tech market. He said the regional changes are leading to open alliances, such as the one established with Greece and Cyprus, and also to secret ones that are being forged with the same intensity. He did not elaborate on the latter.