Gantz visits Cyprus to strengthen trilateral ties with Greece

What happened: Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz visited Nicosia yesterday and agreed to set up military cooperation with Greece and Cyprus.

  • Following the third meeting of the Trilateral Defence Dialogue between the three countries, Gantz said: “We have agreed to advance our military-to-military partnership, solidified our work plan for collaboration in 2021, which will include our fourth annual trilateral summit, this time in Israel. We’ve also promoted large scale industry cooperation that will bolster our defence abilities and create thousands of jobs for all three economies.”
  • He added: “I am personally committed to promoting our defence and state ties even further. I believe that our advanced technologies, fast testing, and good relations can help us quickly restart the regular thriving tourism and economic cooperation between our countries. I intend to allocate the resources needed to put our collaboration back on track.”
  • Greek Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos stressed that Greece condemns “Turkey’s illegal, provocative and unilateral actions in Greece’s and Cyprus’ maritime zones that comprise blatant violations of international law and of good neighbourhood relations”.
  • Gantz also expressed his sympathies to the families and countries of the victims of the helicopter crash involving UN peacekeepers in the Sinai desert earlier in the day. Seven people, including five Americans, were killed in the crash. One wounded US service member was airlifted to a hospital in Israel by Israeli Defense Forces.
  • Israeli and Lebanese negotiators have concluded the second round of indirect talks over the maritime border dispute. The US and UN are mediating the negotiations and said in a joint statement that the talks had been “productive”.

Context: Israel is forging closer ties with Greece and Cyprus in the East Mediterranean amid growing tensions over offshore gas drilling rights, and the three countries are partners in the East Med pipeline project, which seeks to bring Israeli gas to Europe.

  • Yesterday’s meeting followed several other ones earlier this year. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met his Greek and Cypriot counterparts in Greece in late October, in which Ashkenazi said he considered regional cooperation to be “a central strategic component for ensuring peace, stability and economic prosperity.’’
  • And in June, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited Jerusalem and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was the fourth government-to-government meeting between Israel and Greece, in which the two countries signed three memorandums of understanding, on cyber issues, agriculture and tourism.
  • The Israel Defence Forces are also collaborating with Greece and Cyprus in several frameworks, including the Blue Flag exercise with Poland and the US in 2017 and 2019. In 2017 and 2019, the Israeli air force also participated in the joint exercise Iniohos in Greece, together with the UAE, Italy, and the US.
  • The IDF also recently announced a new class of weapon ships to defend its gas exploration sites in the East Med. Israel will receive the first of four Sa’ar 6 ships in December.
  • The IDF have said that many of the systems on the ship are brand new, including a radar with a range exceeding 100 kilometres, and its weapons and defence systems can react to high-trajectory rockets and missiles. The Sa’ar 6 is reported to have stealth capabilities, which makes it more difficult to be detected by enemy radar.

Looking ahead: Greece and Cyprus’s dispute with Turkey over territorial rights in the East Med could disrupt plans for the pipeline to eventually reach Europe.

  • Turkey has increased tensions by sending gas prospecting vessels into waters claimed by Greece and drilling ships into an area where Cyprus claims exclusive rights.
  • With US energy giant Chevron recently purchasing Noble Energy, which holds a 40 per cent take in the Israeli Leviathan gas field, Israel is keen ensure its oil fields are protected.
  • Israeli and Lebanese negotiators are set to reconvene on 2 December for third round of talks.

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