(photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will 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 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
This week Cyprus opened its second licensing round for
companies interested in searching for gas in its exclusive economic zone. The US
Noble Energy company made a huge natural gas find after being the only company
to bid for the first tender some five years ago.
“There are many ways we
can cooperate on the gas issue in a mutually beneficial manner,” one diplomatic
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.
While tense ties with Turkey unquestionably have had
much to do with the improvement of Israeli-Cypriot ties, one Israeli official
said there were now enough “positive reasons” for the countries to cooperate
“without bringing in a third party as the catalyst.”
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
Netanyahu’s visit comes just under a year after Cypriot
President Dimitris Christofias came to Israel, in the first visit by a Cypriot
head of state in 11 years.