Dec. 18, 2015
And there are significant signs of a new emerging alliance between Israel, Cyprus and Greece. Two days ago, representatives of all three countries met here in Jerusalem, in part to plan a summit – in Nicosia, Cyprus – in which Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tzipras, and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades are scheduled to participate in January.
The three nations have many shared concerns – including gas in the Mediterranean, migration issues, fighting terrorism, and water management – certainly enough to motivate a sense of needing to work together. But this growing alliance has a complex background that also reflects upon that changing diplomatic terrain.
As Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman wrote recently:
“The flourishing new relationship between Israel and her two Hellenic neighbors in the eastern Mediterranean – Greece and Cyprus – is important on its own merits. But equally important, the Israel-Greece-Cyprus alliance seeks to block Turkey’s ambitions of regional hegemony, while at the same time offering Ankara a key place in the new Mediterranean political order, if and when she comes to her senses.(Emphasis here in the original and added following.)
“Two events, apparently unrelated, yet interwoven in unpredictable ways, demonstrated last month that regional dynamics in the eastern Mediterranean are at a new and possibly formative stage.
“Turkey downed a Russian fighter operating in Syria, which raised fears of a broadening conflict, and placed two of the world’s most headstrong leaders on what seemed like a collision course. Meanwhile, despite his roots in the country’s traditionally anti-Zionist left, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras paid a short and warm visit to Israel. So did Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades.
“When visiting Israel, Tsipras went so far as to recognize that Jerusalem is, and will continue to be, ‘the eternal capital of the Jewish People’ (while offering similar recognition to the putative Palestinian ‘state’).
“Both these visits, as well as the Russian conflict with Turkey, reflect – directly or by inference – aspects of the growing cost of Turkey’s vaulting ambitions under President Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutoglu.”
Feeling shut out as a result of the shifting dynamics, Erdogan – whose relationship with Israel has been cold to non-existent since the Mavi Mamara incident more than five years ago – has in recent days began making overtures to Israel, speaking about how a good Turkish-Israeli relationship would benefit the entire region. This signals the possibility of a real shift on Erdogan’s part (and indeed there are reports that normalization of relations is on the horizon). Whatever is going on behind the scenes, however, Israel’s public response has been appropriately cool (especially as Erdogan is still making demands regarding Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza and more).
Erdogan was undoubtedly motivated in part by statements made by a furious Putin regarding the fact that trade relations with Turkey could be severed, and replaced by commercial understandings with Israel.
Just yesterday, at a major press conference, Putin accusing Erdogan of overseeing a “creeping islamization,” and said he didn’t “see any prospects of improving relations with the Turkish leadership,”
It is believed that the announcement by Israel regarding the upcoming summit with Greece and Cyprus was timed to reassure these two countries that any normalization of ties with Turkey would not come at their expense. This announcement also made it clear to Turkey that Israel has other options in the region.
Shifting sands…and Israel as a major regional player.