Liberman to Cyprus for search-and-rescue deal

Foreign minister will attempt to turn the agreement into a practical arrangement for emergency assistance.

Israeli rescue helicopter 370 (R) (photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Israeli rescue helicopter 370 (R)
(photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Just two months after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Cyprus, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman will visit on Monday to push forward implementation of a recently signed search-and-rescue agreement.
Netanyahu and Cypriot President Demetris Christofias signed the agreement in February, but Israeli officials – recognizing the sensitivity of anything smacking of a security agreement – quickly denied at the time that it had any military significance. Rather, they said the agreement – signed during the first ever visit to Cyprus by an Israeli prime minister – only dealt with assistance the two countries would give one another in a time of crisis.
Cyprus sent a plane and helicopter to help Israel fight the Mount Carmel Forest fire in December 2010, and Israel sent generators to Cyprus after an explosion last year knocked out the country’s main power plant.
Government officials said that Liberman, on his two-day visit, would work to move the search-and-rescue agreement from a paper agreement into something practical on the ground, and also to include other nations in the region, such as Bulgaria, Greece and Romania.
Israel once had a similar agreement with Turkey, but it lapsed as a result of the deteriorating ties between the two countries.
Because of Turkey’s tense relations in the eastern Mediterranean with Israel, Cyprus and Greece, agreements such as these are quite sensitive and raise questions whether they could be the first steps toward a strategic alliance.
A search-and-rescue pact will open the way for air and naval maneuvers in and around Cyprus. Some argue that Cyprus is keen on such an agreement as it explores – much to Turkey’s chagrin and in spite of Ankara’s threats – for gas in its exclusive economic zone.
Netanyahu, during his visit, danced around the question of whether Israel would provide security for the Cypriot gas field, which lies close to Israeli natural-gas deposits.
Israel’s relations with Cyprus, as well as with Greece, sky-rocketed with the sharp deterioration in Israel’s ties with Turkey, although Israeli officials have said the reason for the dramatic change was not only Turkey, but also economic and other mutual interests. Netanyahu has spoken repeatedly in recent months about a regional alliance that includes Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria.
In addition to meeting Christofias, Liberman – who visited Cyprus last year – is also scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Neoklis Sylikiotis, and opposition leader Nicos Anastasiades.
Liberman’s visit comes just 10 weeks before Cyprus takes over the rotating EU presidency on July 1.
Over the last few weeks there have been a number of multi-national maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean. Israel, the US and Greece held one at the beginning of the month, and France and Cyprus carried out a joint search-and-rescue maneuver in early March.