Israel’s rapidly improving ties with Greece and Cyprus do not come at the expense of its relations with other countries in the region, notably Turkey, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.
“Our cooperation with Greece and Cyprus stands on its own. It is something that was long overdue and we’re happy that we’re making progress with it ,” he said at a joint press conference with his Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras, in Jerusalem.
“It’s independent of our efforts to normalize relations with Turkey,” Netanyahu added. “We’re trying to do this; I don’t know if we’ll succeed, but we’ll keep on trying. We’ll have to ensure that Israeli interests are kept.”
Turkey and Israel enjoyed a “very good relationship” in the past, he continued. “We didn’t want to see it deteriorate, and we didn’t cause this deterioration. If there is a change of policy, we’ll welcome it.”
Relations between Ankara and Jerusalem have been frosty for nearly a decade and almost broke down entirely after the 2010 Israeli naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed 10 Turkish citizens. Despite an apology by Netanyahu in 2013, efforts to end the standoff have repeatedly failed, though in recent weeks there have been increasing signs that a rapprochement is in the offing.
In December, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told journalists that “normalization with Israel” was possible, but Israel issued a lukewarm reaction to the overture. “The ball is in Turkey’s court,” a senior official in Jerusalem reportedly said.
Immediately after their joint press conference Thursday, Netanyahu and Tspiras presided over a G2G (government to government) meeting in which several cabinet ministers from both countries participated.
The ministers signed numerous bilateral agreements in the fields of foreign affairs, economic cooperation, innovation, energy, the environment, tourism, transportation, maritime relations, the maintenance of public order, civil defense and the war on terrorism.
It was the second G2G meeting between Israeli and Greek officials since 2013. “Greece is a true friend. I believe that we are developing a friendship that can turn into a genuine alliance for peace, for progress and for security,” Netanyahu said.
He and Tsipras are slated to travel on Thursday to Nicosia to meet with the president of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, for a trilateral summit to further discuss “regional interests of common concern,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
That meeting “aims to establish a permanent framework of countries with a similar world view, shared values and common interests, in order to strengthen stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and promote prosperity,” the PMO said in a statement.
In recent months, Jerusalem, Athens and Nicosia have drastically increased cooperation, especially in the field of energy.
“Energy also includes not merely discussing the possibilities of using our offshore gas, but also connecting Israel, Cyprus and Greece with an electricity cable that will, for the first time, enable Israel to diversify its electricity grid and even export gas through electrical energy,” Netanyahu said Thursday.
During their press conference, he and Tspiras also discussed regional developments, although without going into great detail. Mentioning the fact that Wednesday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the two men both said the world has to draw lessons from the past and apply them to the future.
“I think we have to be vigilant and strong in the face of the calls for new genocide, for the new upheavals of murderous creeds that seek to annihilate modern peoples, the remnants of ancient civilizations, the very way of life that developed through our common culture,” Netanyahu said. “And I believe that we have the capacity to learn from history and prevent its repetition.”
He mentioned that 321 Greeks have been recognized by the Yad Vashem national Holocaust memorial as Righteous Among the Nations for risking their lives to rescue Jews. “Three hundred and twenty-one. That’s a substantial number,” he said.
Tspiras, speaking in Greek via an interpreter, said that the parliament in Athens for the first time had held a special session in memory of the country’s Holocaust victims. “Greece was never neutral. It played an important role in fighting for justice, and during the harsh period of Nazism the Greek people displayed real heroism.”
The Greek prime minister, who heads a far-left government, also expressed “concern” over both terror attacks on Israeli civilians and settlement expansion. He called for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“Greece is friend of Israel, but at the same time we’re friends with the Palestinians and want to play a role in bringing about cooperation and peace,” he said. “This can be done only via dialogue and direct negotiations.”