Cypriot president pays first visit in over a decade

Trip highlights ties which have improved proportionately to degree which Israel's relations with Turkey have deteriorated.

(photo credit: REUTERS)
Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias arrived on Sunday night for the first visit by a Cypriot head of state in 11 years, reflecting ties that have improved proportionate to the degree to which Israel’s relations with Turkey have deteriorated.
Ties with Cyprus and Greece have improved markedly over the past two years, as a frigid wind has blown through ties between Jerusalem and Ankara. At the beginning of the last decade Greece and Cyprus were widely considered among the most – if not the most – unfriendly countries toward Israel in Europe.
Along with a marked warming trend with Cyprus and Greece, there has also been a strengthening of relations in recent years with Romania and Bulgaria, two other historic rivals of Turkey.
The improvement of the ties with Cyprus was manifest in Cyprus’ position regarding protest flotillas setting sail for Gaza. Cyprus has consistently refused to let these ships set sail from its ports.
The relationship between the two countries is even more interesting considering that the left-wing Christofias is Cyprus’s first, and the EU’s first and only, communist leader – by no means a natural fit for Israeli’s Likud-led government.
Christofias will be in the country for two days, accompanied by his Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou, his Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism Antonis Paschalides, and a large business delegation that will host a seminar in Tel Aviv.
Cypriot officials, while acknowledging that the deterioration of Israel-Turkish ties have played an important role in Israel and Cyprus getting closer together, said that other elements were also involved, including a business relationship that the officials said has “exploded” over the last several years.
While Israel’s exports to Cyprus is primarily in the hitech field, Cyprus provides Israeli businesses with a number of financial services, with numerous Israeli companies registered in Cyprus to enable them to do business with the Arab world.
Security and defense-related cooperation has also increase significantly, Cypriot officials said, without providing details.
The officials said that the improved attitude toward Israel is also attributed in some part to the fact that thousands of Cypriots have come to Israel over the last 15 years, a good number of them for medical reasons. The officials said 20-30 Cypriots receive treatment at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer and Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem at any given time. Likewise, the official said, a number of Cypriot doctors receive their training in Israel.
In advance of the visit, the Cypriot Embassy issued a communiqué saying that “for thousands of Israelis and Cypriots, the burgeoning of relations between the two states represents an official acknowledgment of something which started many years ago on a people to people level. Jewish communities flourished in Cyprus during ancient times, and over the past two millennia, Jews often found refuge in Cyprus.
In more recent history, many Jewish immigrants remember the support and warmth of the Cypriot people during their incarceration on the island by British forces, and with independence in 1948, many Israelis have become regular visitors to Cyprus, or have transformed Cyprus into their second home.”
Christofias is scheduled to meet with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.