ANALYSIS: Turkey – No; Greece and Cyprus – Yes

The leaders of Israel, Greece and Cyprus shaking hands at the signing of their countries’ strategic partnership agreement. (Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters)
The leaders of Israel, Greece and Cyprus shaking hands at the signing of their countries’ strategic partnership agreement. (Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters)

A very significant development transpired on Thursday in Cyprus.

It took place at a tripartite summit meeting involving the heads of state of Israel, Cyprus and Greece.

The all-day meetings produced an historic agreement for strategic cooperation – a first for the eastern Mediterranean Basin. Specifically, a gas pipeline will be run from Israel’s gas reserves in the sea towards Cyprus, and from there to Greece. Ultimately, according to this plan, the gas will be piped to Europe.

The three countries also agreed to establish a committee to investigate the possibility of placing an underwater electric line by which to send made-in-Israel electricity (with the help of its offshore gas) to Cyprus and Greece.

Participating for Israel was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, together with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Perhaps the most important part of this story is the gradual discarding of the old Turkish-Israeli alliance. The three-way agreement, after all, deals not only with gas and electricity, but also with military and diplomatic cooperation. The message being sent to Turkey is: “We can get along just fine without you here in the Middle East.”

On the other hand, if the bilateral ties between it and Israel improve, it could very well be that Turkey will be included in the agreement and will benefit from, among other things, the Israeli gas as well.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is essentially paving the way toward this new alliance, described the Thursday meetings as an historic event “we face unprecedented challenges, but also unprecedented opportunities to advance our common goals.”

We accompanied Netanyahu during his unique summit meeting in Nicosia, which was held under heavy police security, and we were able to sense the satisfaction that all three leaders derived from the gathering. They issued a statement afterwards announcing their agreement to “strengthen our mutual cooperation, with the objective of advancing this trilateral partnership in various areas of common interest, and of working together to advance peace, stability, security and growth in this area and beyond.”

The statement included a nod towards Turkey, and others, by adding, “Our partnership is not exclusive in design or nature, and we are ready to welcome other like-minded actors to join our efforts to promote coordination and cooperation, as well as regional peace and stability.”

“We agree to work closely together,” the declaration continued, “with a view to strengthening our cooperation on common projects, involving both public and private actors. In particular, we are examining practical means of cooperating and implementing joint projects and synergies in the fields of energy, tourism, research and technology, environment, water management, combating terrorism, and migration.”

The joint declaration also mentioned a host of other fields in which cooperation is being explored, including agriculture, forestation, environmental protection, joint response to natural disasters, joint scientific projects, and more.

Israel’s gas finds in the eastern Mediterranean were of particular import to the three leaders: “The discovery of important hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean can serve as a catalyst for peace, stability and cooperation in the region. To this end, [we] view the energy sector, and in particular, natural gas and renewable energy, as a solid foundation for cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean basin.”

They did not ignore the dangers: “We have agreed to work closely together promoting joint projects, which will enhance the security of energy supply.”

Even the weather was mentioned: “Following the adoption of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, we reaffirm our commitment to explore avenues of cooperation in the sphere of renewable energy through joint green-tech programs, in particular in the fields of solar energy, energy efficiency, fuel options for transportation and smart grids.”

Tourism is important to all three countries, and the declaration acknowledged “the vast potential for a comprehensive collaboration towards encouraging the influx of tourists to the region by offering joint packages, including cruises and religious, medical and other thematic tourism.”

The dark shadow of the European Union looms over Israel, and Greece and Cyprus agreed to this formulation: “We remain steadfastly committed to working together towards the enhancement of the bilateral relations between the European Union and Israel in areas of mutual interest and concern.”

Terrorism, of course, was specifically addressed: “We acknowledge the grave dangers posed by terrorism, both regionally and globally, and have agreed to continue joining forces with the international community to tackle this challenge… We have agreed to enhance our cooperation by initiating trilateral dialogue between our competent Authorities. Efforts to curb the flow of foreign fighters, restrict financial and military support to terrorist groups, and counter extremist propaganda should intensify. Incitement to violence should be condemned and stopped.”

The millions of refugees flooding Europe was not ignored: “The ongoing turmoil in our neighborhood has triggered unprecedented migratory flows that pose a challenge that can be met only by multilateral action that addresses the conditions that created these migratory flows, through comprehensive and holistic planning and strategies. It should address ways to ending hostilities, eradicating poverty and improving livelihoods through development. We are also committed to combating smuggling of people and reiterate our readiness to contribute to efforts designed to address the humanitarian aspects of the unfolding refugee crisis, in close cooperation with all concerned countries and actors.”

Significantly, the three leaders agreed that the next trilateral summit meeting will be held in Israel, in the second half of 2016. Until then, perhaps additional efforts will be made to include the Turks in the partnership – though it appears that Turkey’s President Erdogan is far from anxious to sign on.

In truth, the aggressive Erdogan is slowly but surely losing much of his influence in the Middle East. It is possible that while he broods on the sidelines, Egypt, Jordan, and the Saudis might join the partnership. It is likely that a future Kurdish state might join as well, and even possibly Syria, after it arises from its ashes.

Who will be left behind? Only Erdogan.

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