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Herzog awards Cypriot president medal of honor, touts Mediterranean alliance

Recently reinstated presidential honor given to Nicos Anastasiades as Jerusalem seeks to keep Nicosia and Athens close despite rapprochement with Turkey

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

President Isaac Herzog awards the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor to the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, November 9, 2022 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog awards the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor to the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, November 9, 2022 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Lauding the multifaceted alliance between Jerusalem and Nicosia, President Isaac Herzog bestowed the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor on his Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades on Wednesday at his official residence in Jerusalem.

The award was the latest symbol of Israel’s continuing efforts to keep its eastern Mediterranean allies close despite a recent thaw with Turkey, which remains a bitter rival of Cyprus and Greece.

“While the nations of the Mediterranean have more often been divided by conflict than united by cooperation, Israel and Cyprus have actually built a true friendship,” Herzog said during a ceremony in the Great Hall of the President’s Residence.

“The core of this new Mediterranean reality is built upon the brave Israel-Cyprus bilateral relationship, which you have courageously spearheaded, including our trilateral alliance together with Greece,” the president continued, pointing at the regional EastMed Gas Forum, the EuroAsia Interconnector energy project, and the four-way strategic forum the three countries formed along with the UAE.

Herzog also praised “the warmth [Anastasiades has] consistently shown to Israel and the Jewish People.”

The Cypriot leader said the ceremony “evokes intense feelings and emotions.”

He added that the Israel-Cyprus relationship is “strategic.”

President Isaac Herzog welcomes President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, November 9, 2022 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

An IDF honor guard and band welcomed Anastasiades and First Lady Andri Anastasiadou when they arrived at the President’s Residence.

Earlier in the day, Anastasiades met with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, presumed to be the next prime minister. Netanyahu’s office said the two discussed strengthening bilateral ties.

In recent years Israel, Greece and Cyprus ramped up cooperation on economic efforts in the Mediterranean Sea, including on electricity and gas. They also shared a suspicion 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.

However, Turkey and Israel reestablished full diplomatic ties in August, a process largely shepherded by Herzog.

President Isaac Herzog, left, and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades speak to the media, during a press conference after their meeting at the presidential palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Wednesday, March 2, 2022 (Iakovos Hatzistavrou/Pool via AP)

Herzog visited Cyprus and Greece early this year to reassure the Turkish rivals ahead of a March trip to Ankara.

During his visit to Nicosia, Herzog told Anastasiades that “nothing in my [Turkey] visit and what would ensue will be on the account of this strategic relationship with your country.”

Anastasiades awarded Herzog the Grand Collar of the Order of Makarios III, Cyrpus’s highest order of merit, during that trip.

In August 2021, then-Foreign Minister Yair Lapid welcomed his Greek and Cypriot colleagues to Israel and noted that a pragmatic alliance was emerging across the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean region, which includes Israel’s Arab partners.

On Tuesday, Israel’s environmental protection minister attended a regional meeting co-hosted by Anastasiades at the COP27 global meeting on climate change in Egypt, alongside the Iraqi and Lebanese leaders.

A drilling platform off the coast Limassol, Cyprus, March 10, 2019 where ExxonMobil discovered the third-biggest gas deposit in the world. (AP /Petros Karadjias)

The Presidential Medal of Honor, bestowed on 29 people thus far, was initiated by then-president Shimon Peres in 2012. Based on the French Legion of Honor, it was last given in 2014 before Herzog gave it to US President Joe Biden and Czech President Miloš Zeman earlier this year.

Herzog reconstituted the Medal of Honor advisory committee upon taking office, under retired Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger.

Herzog announced five other recipients this week as well: poet Rachel Shapira, IDF Brig. Gen. (res.) Pinchas Bukhris, Arab educational entrepreneur Dalia Fadila, youth educator Chaim Perry, and US Jewish leader Michael Siegal.

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