It is the beginning of a long friendship between Israel and Cyprus, said Defence Minister Demetris Eliades after signing agreements on aspects of common defence and the exchange of intelligence with his counterpart Ehud Barak in Israel.
Cyprus and Israel share common principles and want peace with neighboring states, said Eliades, who has invited Barak to visit the island in the first half of 2012.
The defence agreements follow earlier economic agreements to delineate each nation’s maritime border, or Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and to cooperate on energy issues such as exploring for offshore gas and oil.
It is the first time a Cypriot defence minister has made such a visit to Israel, which comes after the alliance between Turkey and Israel waned over an argument related to the deaths of nine Turkish activists at the hands of Israeli special forces in 2010.
On September 7th, 2011, Eliades met with Israeli Ambassador Michael Harari and discussed strengthening bilateral military cooperation. On the same day, Turkey announced its decision to suspend military and commercial agreements with Israel.
Tensions escalated in the Eastern Mediterranean last year over the issue of offshore gas and oil drilling after US company Noble Energy started searching for gas reserves in Cyprus’ Block 12 at the beginning of October.
In response, Turkey boosted its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, claiming that Cyprus’ agreement on maritime borders with Israel is null-and-void, and asserting the right to ‘freedom of navigation.’
Israel, Greece and Russia took up defensive positions in response to Turkey’s aggression over Cyprus’ natural resources. These countries made public statements in support of Cyprus’ sovereign right to its offshore reserves, and said they will defend this right based on the International Law of the Sea.
Since then, Noble Energy discovered between 5-8 Tcf of natural gas in Block 12, and Israeli-Cypriot relations are strengthening significantly as they sign agreements on energy and military cooperation.