Israel’s relations with Greece and Cyprus, historic rivals of Turkey, grew closer in a period in which tensions between Israel and Turkey flared.
Israel, Greece sign their largest defense procurement agreement, April 18 2021
Israel put its close relations with Cyprus and Greece on display, repeatedly and publicly supporting Cyprus’s side in its dispute with Turkey about northern Cyprus.
The statements came a week after President Isaac Herzog and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a friendly phone call, amid a decade of tensions between Jerusalem and Ankara.
The Foreign Ministry released a statement on Tuesday that “Israel is following with deep concern recent unilateral Turkish actions and statements regarding the status of Varosha. Israel reiterates its solidarity and full support for Cyprus.”
Erdogan spoke of peace talks with Cyprus based on "two states," in a speech given hours earlier in the divided Cypriot capital of Nicosia. Turkish Cypriots recently reopened Varosha, a resort that became a no-man’s-land after Turkey invaded the ethnically divided Mediterranean island in 1974.
Turkey is the only country that recognizes Northern Cyprus. Greek Cypriots oppose a two-state solution on grounds that the breakaway state is illegal.
On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, and discussed the Verosha matter, “expressing deep concern about these steps.”
The ministry rarely releases statements of the kind it did about Cyprus. However, it also did so last August in dispute with Turkey, which is in a dispute with Greece over their economic rights in the Mediterranean Sea. Israel expressed “full support and solidarity with Greece.”
Cyprus and Greece asked Israel to make the statements about their respective, related disputes with Turkey.
Last week, Herzog held a 40-minute phone call with Erdogan, in which they emphasized the importance of Israel-Turkey relations to security and stability in the region, as well as continued trade, according to an Israeli readout of the call.
The presidents “saw a great importance in continuing consistent contact and dialogue despite the disagreements, with a goal to promote positive steps towards solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, which will contribute to improving Israel-Turkey relations, as well,” the president’s spokesman said.
An Israeli diplomatic source said that the statement in favor of Cyprus is not connected to the Erdogan-Herzog call.
Various Turkish figures have made statements in recent months that Israel-Turkey relations are on the mend.
But the Israeli diplomatic source said that Turkey has never taken any actions behind its repeated statements that it seeks to repair ties with Israel, but has continued its anti-Israel stance.
The Turkish public overtures could be an attempt to weaken the Israel-Greece-Cyprus axis.
Relations between the Hellenic countries and Israel have flourished in recent years, especially through the energy sector, as well as military cooperation.
Israel’s relations with Greece and Cyprus, historic rivals of Turkey, also grew closer in a period in which tensions between Israel and Turkey flared.
Israel-Turkey relations soured in 2010, especially after IDF commandos boarded the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara that was attempting to break the naval blockade on Gaza and killed 10 Turkish self-styled activists, many of whom were armed.
In the ensuing years, Erdogan harbored Hamas terrorists, accused Israel of genocide and called on Palestinians to take up arms to defend Jerusalem, among other acts.
Lapid and Dendias discussed bilateral relations and Israel-EU ties in their meeting, as well as the energy sector, in which Israel and Greek are working together to build a natural gas pipeline from Israel to Europe.
“Relations between Israel and Greece are strong and good, and we plan to continue to develop and reinforce them,” Lapid stated.