Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir on Tuesday met with Cypriot Justice Minister Anna Koukkides-Procopiou in Limassol — the first time the controversial lawmaker has sat down with a European Union country’s official since assuming office.
Ben Gvir and Koukkides-Procopiou were set to discuss ongoing work by an Israeli mission assisting Cypriot firefighters to extinguish wildfires on the island, and not the country’s policies on Israel, an unnamed Cypriot official told the Haaretz daily before the meeting.
Ben Gvir was only asked to attend the meeting because he was already vacationing on the island in Paphos, the official added.
Ben Gvir has been the focus of intense criticism at home and abroad over provocative actions and statements against Palestinians, Arab Israelis, left-wingers, and the international community. International figures have thus avoided meeting with the minister.
Back in May, the EU Delegation to Israel canceled a scheduled Europe Day reception in Tel Aviv in order to prevent Ben Gvir — who was chosen as the official government representative for the event — from speaking there.
“Regrettably, this year we have decided to cancel the diplomatic reception, as we do not want to offer a platform to someone whose views contradict the values the European Union stands for,” the EU said in a statement at the time.
Following Tuesday’s meeting, Ben Gvir stressed it was important for Israel to aid Cyprus as the two are allies, adding that he and Koukkides-Procopiou had discussed differences between the two countries when it came to fires.
“In Israel, unfortunately, we have many cases of arson, which is done on purpose by some people. Here, it’s mostly a force of nature,” he said, alluding to claims that Arab Israelis have started fires as a form of terrorism.
“But what we have is wonderful cooperation together and I strongly believe this cooperation will only get stronger and stronger as time passes,” Ben Gvir stated. “We are definitely happy to help and cooperate with everyone for whom democracy is important, and we see Cyprus as such.”
Israel joined Lebanon, Greece, and Jordan in sending aircraft to fight the blazes, which have scorched miles of mountainous terrain, officials said Monday.
Israel said two “Air-Tractor” firefighting aircraft, ground crews, and wildfire experts along with six tons of flame retardants were sent to the island nation, adding to the 20 tons of material that Greece was sending.
Lebanon pitched in with a pair of helicopters, while two Greek Canadair aircraft have been dispatched to help douse the fire in the mountains about 11 miles (17 kilometers) north of the coastal town of Limassol. Jordan has sent three aircraft of its own, including two Super Puma helicopters and a Russian-made Mi26 helicopter.
Lazar Berman contributed to this report.