Israel, Greece and Cyprus agreed to the formation of a joint emergency and rescue force that will deal with disasters such as fires, floods and earthquakes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday at a trilateral meeting with the leaders of Greece and Cyprus.
After hosting a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, Netanyahu said that the assistance Cyprus and Greece extended to Israel last month in putting out the fires that devastated the country was both “invaluable” and “deeply appreciated.”
This is a “concrete example of how this cooperation can save lives,” he noted, adding that other countries were invited to join the emergency force that will be set up.
Thursday’s trilateral meeting was the second in less than 12 months, and a sign of the strategic relationship that has developed among the three countries. The last meeting was held in January in Nicosia, and the next will be held in Salonika. In addition to the meeting, Netanyahu also met separately with each leader.
He lauded the relationship as one of “genuine friendship and sympathy of our three peoples to each other.”
Netanyahu said the three countries are bound by shared values. “We are three democracies in the eastern Mediterranean. We’ve come to the conclusion quite a few years ago that we have so much to gain by cooperating with each other, and we’re doing that,” he said.
Up until the early 2000s, Greece and Cyprus were among the most critical countries toward Israel in Europe. This changed, however, in the middle of the last decade with Israel’s discovery of natural gas in the Mediterranean, and because of a sharp deterioration in Israeli-Turkish ties.
Tsipras said that cooperation with Israel “is a strategic choice” for Greece and a “lever of growth.” He said that he was both “happy and proud” of the role Greek firefighting pilots played in combating the blazes that ravaged Israel last month.
Tsipras added that he held “meaningful and sincere” discussions with Netanyahu about developments around the world, as well as on strengthening bilateral ties. He also said “we were honest in expressing our disagreement,” though he did not provide any details about those disagreements.
Regarding energy issues, which always play a dominant role in discussions among the three countries, the Greek prime minister said that Greece aims to “be an energy transit center for Israeli and Cypriot natural gas to Europe.”
According to Tsipras, teams from the countries will discuss an eastern Mediterranean pipeline to transport gas from the Israeli and Cyprus offshore gas fields through Greece to other parts of Europe. He also underlined the strategic importance of the recent purchase of two gas fields from Israel by Greek companies.
One Israeli source said this purchase was important for the Greeks in that it gave them a practical stake and concrete involvement in the natural gas finds in the region.
Tsipras referred to talks under way to find a solution to the northern Cyprus issue, saying that given the other crises in the region, it is “more imperative than ever” to find a “livable and just solution.” He supported Anastasiades in his efforts.
Anastasiades has been involved in intensive talks with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, Mustafa Akinci, for the last 18 years to reunite the divided island.
After touching on the Cyprus problem, Tsipras said that it was also “imperative” to resume Israeli-Palestinian talks that will lead to a twostate solution.
Anastasiades thanked Israel for its support in the current diplomatic efforts to solve the Cyprus problem, and also referred to the importance of creating a climate to allow the resumption of negotiations that would “recognize the security of Israel” and at the same time “lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.”
The Cypriot president, who on a number of occasions referred to Netanyahu as “my dear friend,” said that he underlined in his talks with the premier that Cyprus will “undertake efforts to further the bilateral ties between Israel and the EU that will reflect the overriding importance of such a relationship.”
Diplomatic officials said that both Cyprus and Greece are very supportive and helpful to Israel inside the EU institutions.
Shortly after meeting the Greek and Cypriot leaders, Netanyahu held a meeting with another head of state, Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who is visiting for the second time in just over a year.
Hernandez arrived with Honduran Defense Minister Samuel Reyes Rendon. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Reyes signed a declaration of security cooperation governing the sale of security equipment, joint training exercises and the sharing of technology.
The visit comes just weeks after the Honduran National Congress approved a massive security deal with Israel.
Hernandez said at a press conference last month that this deal will allow for the upgrading of the country’s naval and air forces “like never before.” This includes the refurbishment of the Honduran Air Force’s entire helicopter fleet, as well as many of its fixed-wing aircraft.
According to IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly, the contracts are worth $209 million.
Hernandez also said Israel has committed to collaborating on “issues of intelligence and cybersecurity.”
Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and Hernandez said that the deal will give his government capabilities it has never had before in its fight against the gangs and organized crime plaguing the country.