Netanyahu heads to Cyprus for talks with Cypriot, Greek leaders

PM set to meet separately and together with tightly aligned Mediterranean leaders; trip seen as statement that the alliances are valued despite Israel’s renewed ties with Ankara

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on August 27, 2023. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on August 27, 2023. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was departing Sunday for a two-day trip to Cyprus, in order to meet with his Cypriot and Greek counterparts.

Netanyahu will meet individually with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides on Sunday afternoon and with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Monday, and then all three leaders will convene on Monday afternoon.

Part of a trilateral framework in place since January 2016, the three leaders meet periodically to discuss regional issues, chief among them managing Mediterranean Sea gas deposits and relations with Turkey, complicated for all parties involved.

Israel’s NewMed Energy currently holds minority ownership in the Aphrodite gas field, located in Cypriot economic waters. Aphrodite’s development is being negotiated with Cyprus alongside American drilling giants, Chevron and Shell, which are part-owners.

Cyprus and Israel are also exploring alternative pipeline plans to ship fuel across the Mediterranean, after Israel, Cyprus and Greece’s jointly developed EastMed pipeline project has stalled.

Rather than linking Israeli offshore gas fields to Europe, the Cypriot government has been eyeing a solution that would connect Israeli gas deposits to Cyprus, after which they could be liquified and shipped onwards.

Cyprus’ President Nikos Christodoulides, right, and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis address the media, during a press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, on July 31, 2023 (Yiannis Kourtoglou Pool via AP)

Cypriot and Greek relations with Turkey have long been strained, and continue to carry the scars of Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus, during which it occupied nearly half of the small island. Rebuffing Greek-speaking Cypriots’ dreams of unification, Turkey supports a separate government on the northern half of the island, which is not recognized as its own state by any country other than Turkey.

Israel and Turkey patched up their own ties in 2022, after years of tension and Ankara twice recalling its ambassadors from Tel Aviv.

Relations between the countries reached a low point in 2010 after a Turkish ship attempted to break Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip, and several Turkish citizens were killed during clashes when Israel Defense Forces troops boarded the vessel.

Relations were briefly restored in 2016, but against Turkey recalled its ambassador in 2018, in protest over the IDF shooting Palestinians rioters on the Gaza-Israel border, part of a Great Return march led by the Hamas terror group.

A woman walks by a UN sign at the UN buffer zone inside Pyla village, outskirt of coastal city of Larnaca, Cyprus, January 8, 2009. (Petros Karadjias/AP)

Gallia Lindenstrauss, a researcher at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, said that Israel’s repaired relationship with Turkey is likely arousing concern in Cyprus and Greece.

“Closer relations with Turkey make them nervous,” she said, adding that in many ways, this week’s trip “is a statement” from Netanyahu that he continues to value his relationship with Israel’s Cypriot and Greek allies.

Netanyahu will be greeted by the Greek defense minister upon landing in Larnarca. The prime minister will then travel to the split capital city of Nicosia, where he will meet with Christodoulides in the Presidential Palace.

On Monday, Netanyahu will hold a separate meeting with Greece’s Mitsotakis, and then a trilateral session among all three leaders.

Netanyahu’s Cyprus trip, as well as a separate summit in Turkey, were originally scheduled for July, but postponed after the prime minister had a heart-related health scare.

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