Greece Announces Joint Air Force Drills With Israel, Cyprus, Egypt

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -

Greece’s defense minister says plans are being drawn up for joint air force drills with Cyprus, Israel, Egypt and other European countries as part of efforts to bolster stability in the eastern Mediterranean.

Panos Kammenos’ remarks Sunday came after a military parade in the Cypriot capital to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the ethnically divided island’s independence.

The parade included the overflight of a pair of Greek Air Force F-16 jets, the first showing of the Greek warplanes at the event in 16 years.

The island’s Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said there will be no let-up in efforts to reunify Cyprus, despite July’s collapse of peace talks with breakaway Turkish Cypriots.

Russian-made BUK surface-to-air missiles were also put on the display at the parade.

During a visit to Greece in June, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promised to promote plans for an ambitious Mediterranean undersea natural gas pipeline project, in a bid by his country to become a key European energy supplier.

Israel is hoping to export much of its newly discovered natural gas to Europe by a proposed 1,350-mile undersea pipeline to Cyprus and Greece.

Netanyahu met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, after the three countries signed a joint declaration in Tel Aviv in April to promote construction of the pipeline.

Greece and Israel are also planning an undersea electricity cable link, as well as considering a Mediterranean data cable.

Once frosty, Israel’s ties with Greece and Cyprus have markedly improved in recent years, coinciding with a spat between Israel and regional rival Turkey.

The three countries now hold frequent joint military and civil protection exercises, including the recent “Kinyras-Saul” exercises that involved special forces from Cyprus and Israel.