Israel and Cyprus: Dancing with Turkey on their minds (JERUSALEM POST) By HERB KEINON 02/17/12)
JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-Top
NICOSIA – Perhaps the most striking element of the press conference
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held here Thursday with Cypriot
President Demetris Christofias was that Netanyahu did not mention
Though the meeting that preceded the press conference was between the
Israeli and Cypriot leaders, Turkey was the massive absent presence –
the shadow that hovered unmistakenly above the room.
Christofias felt this presence – how could he miss it? Ankara warned
him Thursday against exploring for gas off Cyprus’ shores, and
scheduled, but did not carry out, a live-fire naval maneuver near the
site of where the country is searching for gas.
During the press conference the Cypriot leader slammed Turkey, first
calling on the international community and the EU to send a message
to Ankara to stop violating international law, and then saying “it is
not Cyprus that threatens Turkey, but Turkey that is threatening
Cyprus. We will continue to cooperate [with Israel], and the true
trouble-maker is Turkey, not the Israel-Cyprus relationship.”
Netanyahu had ample opportunity to slam Turkey; Christofias gave him
many openings, perhaps even wanted him to say something. But
Netanyahu – unlike Turkish leaders who seldom miss an opportunity to
lob rhetorical broadsides at Israel – chose to ignore it.
Netanyahu’s overall message was that the burgeoning love affair
between Israel and Cyprus – a country that just five years ago was
considered one of the most hostile to Israel in Europe – has to do
with Israel and Cyprus, not Turkey. There are enough common interests
that bring the two countries together, he intimated, without having
to bring in a common foe.
Which, obviously, paints only half the picture.
Granted, the discovery of massive gas reserves in the eastern
Mediterranean shared by the two countries played a large part in
bringing Jerusalem and Nicosia together – shared economic interests
is a powerful catalyst in forging alliances. But so too are common
While the way Christofias spoke about Turkey left no question that he
indeed views Turkey, which has occupied part of the island since
1974, as an enemy, Netanyahu diplomatically chose not to mention
Ankara – keeping the door ajar for the hope of some eventual
With Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan not healthy, and senior
Cypriot officials saying he is on his way to the US to undergo
medical treatment, Turkey could very well be on the cusp of major
internal changes. With that a possible scenario, Israel has no
interest in slamming the door in Turkey’s face.
Yet, things have changed dramatically since Erdogan berated President
Shimon Peres in Davos in January 2009 for Operation Cast Lead, and
the Turks sent the Mavi Marmara on its ill-fated blockade-bashing
mission to Gaza in 2010. And one thing Netanyahu’s visit showed was
the rapidity with which Israel was able to look at the new situation
and adjust accordingly.
Rather than cowering before Turkey’s bellicose behavior and bemoaning
an important relationship lost, Israel looked for creative ways to
counterbalance Turkey. And Jerusalem found it in Turkey’s historic
adversaries: Greece and Cyprus, as well as Romania, Bulgaria and –
increasingly – Croatia.
Everyone realizes that Israel lost a huge strategic asset with
Turkey, a strategic asset that neither Cyprus, Greece or the Balkan
countries can replace. Still, if – borrowing an American football
metaphor – Israel lost 10 years in losing Turkey, it has picked up
five or six yards with the the new regional alliance growing in the
eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans.
Does it get Israel back to the line of scrimmage? No. But it is a
whole lot better than a total loss.
Netanyahu did not have to mention Turkey in his remarks.
His very visit to Cyprus – the first ever by an Israeli prime
minister – did it for him.
Turkey, through its threats and planned naval maneuver on Thursday,
sent a message to Israel and Cyprus that Ankara is a major actor in
the eastern Mediterranean that can’t be ignored.
And Netanyahu, just by being in Nicosia, sent a message back: We hear
you, but Israel will do what it feels it must to promote its
strategic and economic interests – despite what Turkey might think.
(© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 02/17/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY