Partners in an 'alliance of stability'

Amid possible thaw in Turkey ties, Herzog announces visits to Greece, Cyprus

With preparations underway for a meeting with Erdogan, president to head to Athens Thursday, then Nicosia next week, for high-level discussions

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

President Isaac Herzog (left) holds a diplomatic working meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Jerusalem, December 7, 2021 (Haim Zach/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog (left) holds a diplomatic working meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Jerusalem, December 7, 2021 (Haim Zach/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog will depart on Thursday for a state visit to Greece, his spokesman’s office announced on Sunday, at the invitation of Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

His office also announced a state visit to Cyprus next Wednesday, March 2, during which he will meet his Cypriot counterpart, Nicos Anastasiades.

In Athens, Herzog will meet with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, other senior officials, and members of the local Jewish community.

His visit will begin with a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, after which he will meet Sakellaropoulou at the Presidential Mansion. Herzog will then meet with Mitsotakis, followed by a state lunch hosted by Sakellaropoulou.

He is then slated to meet the speaker of the Hellenic Parliament, Konstantinos Tasoulas, and opposition leader Alexis Tsipras, a former prime minister.

His visit will conclude with a meeting with the Jewish community.

President Isaac Herzog hosts Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at Beit Hanasi in Jerusalem, December 7, 2021 (Haim Zach/GPO)

The following week in Cyprus, Herzog will be greeted with a ceremony at which both nations’ anthems will be played. He will then have a one-on-one meeting with Anastasiades, followed by an expanded meeting between the leaders’ delegations.

Herzog will be traveling with his senior advisers to Cyprus.

Anastasiades will also host Herzog at a state lunch.

In a statement released Sunday afternoon, Herzog said that during both trips, he would discuss “steps to broaden and deepen the rich collaboration between our nations.

“In particular, we will discuss possibilities for regional collaboration in the Mediterranean Basin in the fight against the climate crisis,” the statement continued.

Calling the three nations “partners in an alliance of stability in the Mediterranean,” Herzog called the upcoming state visits “expressions of the profound friendship between our peoples and of our strategic partnership.”

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis (C) and Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiadis shake hands in Athens on January 2, 2020, ahead of the signing of an agreement for the EastMed pipeline project designed to ship gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe. (Aris Messins/AFP)

Anastasiades and Mitsotakis were in Israel in December for a trilateral summit with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Herzog hosted separate working meetings with both leaders as well.

Israel, Greece and Cyprus are regional allies and cooperate on economic efforts in the Mediterranean Sea, including on electricity and gas. They also share an enmity toward Turkey, which has been trying to expand its presence in the eastern Mediterranean. The three countries held a naval drill last year in a sign of their deepening military ties.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently been indicating a desire to improve ties, and Herzog is expected to visit Ankara in March. Herzog’s upcoming trips may well be designed to allay Greek and Cypriot concerns over a potential Israel-Turkey rapprochement.

In August, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hosted his Greek and Cypriot allies in Jerusalem, speaking of his vision of a future regional alliance to include the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, and others as a “key part of the change that is happening in the region. A moderate, pragmatic and forward-looking alliance.”

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