Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi convened Friday with his counterparts from the United Arab Emirates, Greece and Cyprus in the first meeting of a new regional strategic forum to discuss potential cooperation and threats.
Meeting in Paphos, Cyprus, the ministers spoke of economic and security issues, the pandemic and possible travel corridors to encourage tourism, a statement from the Foreign Ministry said. They will also meet with Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades.
“Today’s meeting is a first substantial step toward broadening the positive influence of the Abraham Accords to our partners in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Ashkenazi said, in reference to the normalization deal between Israel and the UAE, signed under Washington’s auspices.
“We’ve spoken of prosperity and stability that will arise as a result [of the accords] for the entire Middle East, and today we are broadening the circle of prosperity and stability to the Eastern Mediterranean. We are setting out on a new path of regional cooperation with the aim of making the vision of cooperation into a reality that will improve the lives of our citizens.”
Ashkenazi said he was glad to discuss “issues of great importance to the entire region with them, particularly Iran’s aggressive policy and the destabilization of the Middle East that results from it.”
— גבי אשכנזי – Gabi Ashkenazi (@Gabi_Ashkenazi) April 16, 2021
Ashkenazi said Israel was determined to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon, after Tehran promised to step up its uranium enrichment process.
“We will do whatever it takes to prevent the extremists [in Iran] from succeeding, and definitely will prevent this regime from having a nuclear weapon,” he told reporters.
He added that “Israel is determined to defend itself from any attempt to harm its sovereignty and its people and will do anything required to prevent the extremist, anti-Semitic regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
The UAE’s foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan participated in the talks via video conference. His representative at the talks was former foreign minister Anwar Gargash.
Hebrew media reported that the talks also touched on gas and the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which is set to investigate alleged war crimes between Israel and the Palestinians in a case Israel vociferously opposes.
Israel, Greece and Cyprus are regional allies and cooperate on economic efforts in the Mediterranean Sea, including on electricity and gas. They also share enmity with Turkey, which has been trying to expand its presence in the eastern Mediterranean. The three countries held a naval drill last month in a sign of their deepening military ties.
Israel currently has tourism agreements with Cyprus and Greece that allow vaccinated visitors to travel between the countries without the need to quarantine.
The UAE was the first country to agree to establish full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state under the Abraham Accords, a pact brokered by former US president Donald Trump. Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan later agreed to normalize ties as well.