(December 10, 2021 / JNS) Israel, Greece and Cyprus held its eighth trilateral meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday. It was notable for being the first to feature a new Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, who said during a joint press conference with the heads of Cyprus and Greece, that the alliance is “good for our people, good for our countries and good for the region.”
Among topics on the agenda were the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and the major energy projects undertaken by the three nations, including the $7 billion EastMed gas pipeline that will run from Israel through Cyprus and Greece to Europe and the $9 billion Euro-Asia Interconnector, the world’s longest and deepest undersea power cable.
Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), told JNS that the summit stands out for the absence of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s former prime minister and current head of the opposition.
“We saw that on the Greek side, there have been changes over the years, but on the Israeli side, it has only been Netanyahu,” she said, noting that “now there’s this new element” in the person of Bennett.
“This shows basically the continuity and strength of this trilateral relationship,” she said.
Julie Fishman Rayman, senior director of policy and political affairs for the American Jewish Committee, agreed. “The relationship between Greece, Cyprus and Israel now is so strong and so coordinated, it’s easy to forget that it hasn’t always been that way. And for a long time, the relationship was pretty contentious,” she told JNS.
The AJC played a key role in helping to develop the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance Caucus, among whose main issues is to strengthen the Eastern Mediterranean partnership between Israel, Greece and Cyprus. The United States seeks to nurture the trilateral alliance as it reinforces a number of key American interests in the region, among them deepening Israel’s strategic depth.
Other U.S. interests include countering Russia and Turkey’s moves in the region. “Countering Russia’s longtime hold on energy in that part of the world—that’s a big piece of it. Addressing the ongoing, if not increased aggression by Turkey, as it relates to Greece and Cyprus, and their exclusive economic zones … all of those types of things are critical,” said Rayman.
Turkey has ignored the internationally accepted exclusive economic zones in the maritime waters of both Cyprus and Greece after large deposits of natural gas were found in the eastern Mediterranean.
‘Force of stability and safety along the Mediterranean’
At the Dec. 7 press conference, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades referred to “Ankara’s aggressive policy” vis-à-vis its incursion into the maritime economic zones claimed by his island country. He also sharply criticized Turkey for its actions in northern Cyprus, which it has occupied since 1974. He said Turkey was flouting “international law and norms” in “pursuing a revisionist policy, according to which might is right.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis supported Anastasiades at the press conference, also speaking against Turkey.
Of the three players at the summit, Lindenstrauss said Cyprus is “under the most pressure” from Turkey. In July, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the northern part of the island and called for a two-state solution to the problem rather than the internationally accepted view that there should be a reintegration of the Turkish-occupied area into Cyprus.
Bennett remained silent on the issue during the press conference as Lindenstrauss said that navigating between the two sides “is a big dilemma for Jerusalem.” She said the alliance with Greece and Cyprus has strengthened but Turkey remains a “major actor in the region,” one that Israel doesn’t want to antagonize unnecessarily.
Both Lindenstrauss and Rayman view the trilateral alliance as a major success. “The discovery that we have close neighbors in the West with whom we can really strongly cooperate—I think that’s the element that is very clear in this trilateral alliance,” said Lindenstrauss.
“The fact that Cyprus is basically as close to Israel as Cuba to Florida, and that Greece and Cyprus are this force of stability and safety along the Mediterranean really fundamentally changes Israel’s neighborhood,” agreed Rayman. “Suddenly, Israel has the strategic depth, a friendly border that didn’t necessarily exist before.”
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