Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Greek and Cypriot heads of government in Nicosia on Thursday, in an effort to strengthen ties between the three eastern Mediterranean nations and to advance plans to build a gas pipeline to Europe.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades hosted Netanyahu and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in the first-ever tripartite summit between the countries. They pledged to work together to seize opportunities emerging from newly found offshore gas reserves in order to bolster stability and security in a region wracked by conflict.
The three countries say cooperation holds the key to regional stability.
While the alliance has emerged around gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, water resources and tourism were also high on the agenda of the talks, said Cypriot government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides.
Netanyahu said the three countries were to form a trilateral committee to study plans to build a pipeline between Israel and Cyprus and on to Greece for gas exports to Europe.
The leaders also discussed plans for an underwater cable to connect the electricity grids of the three countries, the prime minister told a news conference after their meetings.
“We’re living through great turbulence,” Netanyahu said, referring to the multiple conflicts in the Middle East.
Growing cooperation between the three democracies would advance “stability, security and prosperity” for their peoples and the region at large, he added.
Netanyahu said they also discussed cooperation in water management, tourism, the high-tech sector and firefighting as well as search-and-rescue missions in the eastern Mediterranean.
“Our partnership is not exclusive in design or nature, and we are ready to welcome other like-minded actors to join our efforts to promote coordination and cooperation, as well as regional peace and stability,” the three leaders said in a joint statement.
“The discovery of important hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean can serve as a catalyst for peace, stability and cooperation in the region,” they said in the statement.
The leaders also said they were “committed to combating smuggling of people and reiterate our readiness to contribute to efforts designed to address the humanitarian aspects of the unfolding refugee crisis”.
After separate talks with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Tsipras said their coordination “does not go against anyone,” in an apparent reference to Greece’s NATO partner but historic rival Turkey.
Netanyahu, for his part, said after that meeting, “Our cooperation with Greece and Cyprus stands on its own… It does not depend on our efforts to normalise our relations with Turkey.”
Israel has called for Turkey to respect Cyprus’s right to explore for natural gas and avoid sparking additional tension in the region.
With Israel finding large reserves of gas close to where Cyprus is drilling, the two countries are looking to cooperate on energy issues such as exporting Israeli gas.
Turkey was a key regional ally of Israel until the two countries fell out over the storming by Israeli commandos in 2010 of a Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, bound for Gaza.
But the two countries have reportedly been making progress in secret talks aimed at a rapprochement.