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Cyprus invites Greece, Israel to establish joint East Med firefighting hub

Nicosia says initiative will speed up efforts to combat annual summer wildfires; proposal made during Zoom of countries’ FMs with Blinken aimed at strengthening 3+1 alliance

Firefighting planes try to extinguish a brush fire west of Jerusalem, August 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Firefighting planes try to extinguish a brush fire west of Jerusalem, August 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus’ foreign minister pitched his Greek and Israeli counterparts on the creation of an east Mediterranean firefighting hub aimed at quickly addressing huge summer wildfires that could overwhelm any single country Monday, as the countries promised to maintain their alliance despite growing ties between Jerusalem and Ankara.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides made the proposal during a virtual meeting of the three countries’ top diplomats as well as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, aimed at closer cooperation on energy, the economy, climate action, emergency preparedness, and counterterrorism.

Kasoulides also said his island nation is willing to host a gathering of ministers to discuss ways of protecting the east Mediterranean Sea through the development of environmentally friendly ports and other coastline infrastructure.

Cyprus, Greece, and Israel also have recently shared enmity toward Turkey, which has been trying to expand its presence in the eastern Mediterranean.

But recent months have also seen a rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, as Ankara seeks energy solutions. President Isaac Herzog visited Turkey last month at the invitation of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Ankara’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is slated to visit Israel at the end of the month.

Israel has vowed this will not affect its growing strategic relationship with Athens and Nicosia.

Cyprus, Greece and Israel have often assisted each other in recent years by sending firefighting teams, gear and aircraft to help combat massive wildfires. The Cypriot proposal would seek to streamline and speed up the dispatching of such assistance.

Blinken joined Kasoulides, and their Greek and Israeli counterparts, Nikos Dendias and Yair Lapid, to demonstrate Washington’s support for the three-way cooperation pact that Cyprus, Greece, and Israel have developed over recent years.

In a joint statement, the ministers said they had decided “to intensify cooperation in the areas of energy, economy, climate action, emergency preparedness, and counterterrorism, contributing to resilience, energy security, and interconnectivity in the region.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets virtually with his counterparts from the US, Greece, and Cyprus in the ‘3+1’ forum, May 9, 2022. (Natan Weil/GPO)

The four countries also expressed their support for the recent Negev Summit, which brought together the foreign ministers of Israel, the US, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt in March to discuss boosting ties.

The foreign ministers condemned the recent wave of terror attacks in Israel that has taken the lives of 19 people, the statement said, adding that the sides agreed to meet once again before the end of the year.

They agreed to meet again before the end of 2022.

Cyprus, Greece, and Israel have worked for the last six years to strengthen ties based on new gas deposits in Cypriot and Israeli waters, and want to explore ways of getting those hydrocarbons to European markets as a potential alternative to Russian gas.

Additionally, the European Union agreed earlier this year to earmark 657 million euros ($687 million) for the construction of a 2,000-megawatt undersea electricity cable that will link the three countries’ power grids.

Officials said that, with the completion of the cable dubbed “Eurasia Interconnector,” it is expected that more investment will flow into renewable sources enhancing the energy mix of Greece, Cyprus and Israel.

An earlier idea for a gas pipeline link appears to have fallen out of favor, given  question marks over its cost and environmental impact.

 

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