Amid tensions with Turkey, Israel announces alliance with Greece, Cyprus


(JTA) — The leaders of Israel, Cyprus and Greece entered a trilateral partnership that they said was not meant to exclude other parties — in a possible reference to Turkey.

The announcement about the trilateral agreement came on Thursday, during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the island of Cyprus, whose northern half is under Turkish occupation.

The three leaders — Netanyahu, his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras and Cyprus President Nikos Anastasiades — “agreed to strengthen the cooperation between [the] three countries in order to promote a trilateral partnership in different fields of common interest and to work together towards promoting peace, stability, security and prosperity in the Mediterranean and the wider region,” they wrote in a joint statement.

The partnership comes amid sustained tensions among Greece, Cyprus and Turkey over the occupation, and a crisis in relations between Turkey and Israel over various issues, including Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip and Turkey’s hosting of Hamas officials.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Netanyahu after the announcement “to discuss ongoing efforts to improve Israel-Turkey relations and advance energy cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean,” Biden’s office said in a one-sentence statement. The United States is taking a keen interest in reviving Israel-Turkey ties, considering the nations its two most important allies in the region.

In 2009, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of deliberately killing Palestinian children. The following year, diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Ankara broke down after Israeli troops killed nine Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara a Gaza-bound ship attempting to break the blockade. The troops were attacked with knives and clubs as they boarded the ship to enforce Israel’s blockade. Talks on restoring relations are reportedly ongoing.

Israel, Greece and Cyprus “share common democratic values, principles, and interests,” and “have, to this end, agreed on the importance for closer cooperation and a coordinated set of policies,” the statement read. “Our partnership is not exclusive in design or nature, and we are ready to welcome other like-minded actors,” it added in a possible reference to Turkey.

Noting the discovery in recent years of substantial natural gas deposits around Israel and Cyprus, the statement also said that “the three countries view the energy sector, and in particular, natural gas and renewable energy, as a solid foundation for cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean basin.”

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