Saturday, December 3, 2016

Israel, Greece, Cyprus to hold second trilateral summit - Herb Keinon

by Herb Keinon

Meeting in Jerusalem comes less than a year after ‘strategic alliance’ announced in Nicosia.

Energy issues and emergency rescue cooperation will top the agenda when leaders of Israel, Greece and Cyprus meet this week in Jerusalem for their second trilateral summit in less than a year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades will hold a one-day summit on Thursday. The three first met together in January in Nicosia in what was hailed as the formation of a new “strategic alliance” in the eastern Mediterranean.

Tsiparis and Anastasiades will be accompanied by a number of their senior ministers. The three leaders are expected to issue a joint declaration after their meeting.

Israel's relationship with both Cyprus and Greece has flowered in recent years, both as a result of the discovery of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean and because of the deterioration of Israeli-Turkish ties since Recep Tayyip Erdogan first came to power in 2002. This will be the first meeting between the leaders of the three countries since Israel and Turkey reached a reconciliation agreement over the summer.

Anastasiades flew to Israel on short notice in July, soon after the agreement with Turkey was announced a few weeks earlier. Both countries downplayed any downgrade in the their relationship as a result of Israel's upgrade in ties with Turkey. Israel is currently weighing three options for exporting its recently discovered natural gas. The first is to export to Egypt for its needs. The second is to export to Turkey, a country keen on diversifying its energy supplies, and the third is to lay a pipeline to Cyprus and then to Greece. This option is by far the most expensive.

With its current natural gas capacities, Israel only has the possibility of choosing two of those options.

Israel, Greece and Cyprus set up a trilateral committee to examine the possibility of laying a gas pipeline from Israel to Cyprus, and then to Greece for export further on in Europe.

Natural Infrastructures, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz said following a meeting with his colleagues from Greece and Cyprus in September that the underwater pipeline was “one of the most promising projects” under examination.

In January, the three leaders stressed in their joint declaration that their new strategic axis was not exclusive, and – in a nod to Egypt and Turkey – stated that they would gladly welcome other states with similar goals into this alliance.

Diplomatic officials said that Thursday's meeting will be a follow-up to the January summit. Following that summit the countries pledged closer cooperation in seven fields: energy, tourism, research and technology, environment, water management, anti-terrorism and migration.

The recent fires in Israel, as well as a massive fire in Cyprus in June, have put another issue on the agenda: firefighting and rescue cooperation. Both Greece and Cyprus immediately sent firefighting planes to Israel last month when the country was ravaged by fires, and Israel sent firefighting planes to Cyprus in the summer when it faced a major fire of its own.

Herb Keinon


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