One positive ricochet from the recent tension with Turkey has been an improvement in Israel’s ties with Cyprus, something one senior diplomatic official said has been very helpful in dealing with the issue of boats setting sail for Gaza.
Cyprus could not have “been better” in the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla incident on May 31, when nine people were killed after the IDF stopped a Turkish-flagged boat from breaking the naval blockade of Gaza.
“We would have had many more problems” without the cooperation of Cyprus, the senior official said.
For instance, a week after the incident, the Cyprus-based Free Gaza Movement announced it was leaving for London after the Cyprus government refused to let the organization use its ports as staging points for the Gaza-bound boats.
“Cyprus is not happy to have us here. They are cooperating with the Israelis and we don’t like this,” one of the movement’s heads, Greta Berlin, told the Chinese Xinhua press agency. “It is time for us to go.”
Xinhua quoted the Cyprus government as saying its decision had been taken to protect what it called “vital national interests.” Cyprus has not yet made an official comment on whether it would allow Lebanese boats destined for Gaza to stop there first.
Another diplomatic official said Cypriot cooperation with Israel was less out of a love for Israel than a hatred of Turkey, which has occupied part of the Mediterranean island since 1974.
In January, immediately following Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s dressing down of the Turkish ambassador for an anti-Semitic television program, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman went to Cyprus. Since then, there have been a number of high-level visits back and forth, including one here last month by the Cypriot foreign minister.
The senior diplomatic official said the breakdown of relations with
Turkey had also led to a strengthening of Israel’s ties with Turkey’s
northern neighbor, Bulgaria, as well as with Romania. Bulgarian Foreign
Minister Nikolai Mladenov, who has been characterized in Jerusalem as
one of Israel’s best friends among EU foreign ministers, is scheduled
to visit here next week.
According to government officials, as Turkey no longer allows the
Israel Air Force to train in Turkish airspace, maneuvers may in the
future take place over Romania.
Likewise, as tens of thousands of Israeli tourists who in years past
have gone to Turkey are now looking for other venues, Israeli travel
agents – according to Israeli government officials – are looking to
Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania as possible alternatives, and are eagerly
being courted by tourist professionals there.
Another possibility is Malta, to where Lieberman is scheduled to travel
on Wednesday. Malta is a small country inside the 27-member EU that has
not been known for its sympathies toward Israel, but which Jerusalem is
increasingly trying to neutralize as an antagonistic player within
various EU forums.