The increasing number of high-level visits between Israel and Cyprus are proof that the two countries are building relations “brick by brick”, said an Israeli diplomat a couple of days ago. Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis’ visit to Israel on Wednesday, where she met the Israeli President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, was “excellent for both sides”, said the diplomat, adding, “We’re certainly building relations brick by brick”. Israel was the second country after Greece visited by Marcoullis since taking office earlier this month.
Cyprus, a traditional ally of Arab countries, was long considered one of Israel’s fiercest critics in Europe. Geopolitical developments in the region have worked to overturn this image, with the two countries finding plenty more in common in recent years. Relations between the two improved significantly in the last two years, no doubt helped by the deteriorating relationship between Turkey and Israel, and the anticipation of large hydrocarbon deposits likely shared by Cyprus and Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean in their respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Turkey’s leaning on Lebanon not to ratify its EEZ agreement with Cyprus and Lebanon’s protests against a similar agreement signed between Cyprus and Israel have also played their part.
Possible collaboration between Israel and Cyprus on the sale, transport and distribution of natural gas from the region has pushed relations forward, boosting ties and encouraging further economic and political relations.
Recent thinly-veiled threats by Turkey regarding Cyprus’ plans to begin drilling in its EEZ by October 1 have heightened the need for Cyprus to garner international support for its plans to explore and extract its natural resources. However, the most Cyprus can expect from any country is public support for international law and adherence to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, plus behind-the-scenes support from countries with possible private commercial interests in the energy project.
Speaking on her return from Israel, Marcoullis highlighted recent positive messages from the US State Department and Russian Foreign Ministry regarding Cyprus’ right to carry out explorations in its own EEZ. She expressed belief that Turkey would get the messages coming from the international community on the legitimacy of Cyprus’ actions. “All procedures followed are based on the letter and spirit of the Convention. So for us, there never was nor is any problem,” she said. Regarding her Israeli contacts, the minister said the visit produced “very good results”. Marcoullis referred to the “very clear” statement posted on the Israeli Foreign Ministry website by her Israeli counterpart Avigdor Liberman.
The Israeli minister welcomed the EEZ agreement signed between the two countries in 2010, stating “this was a bilateral issue that must be implemented as soon as possible to enable the initiation of the gas production process for the benefit of both parties”. He added that the agreement was signed in accordance with the rules and rights of international law.
The Office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also released a statement noting the improved relations between the two countries, saying: “We are two eastern Mediterranean democracies with common values and overlapping interests.” He called for the further tightening of bilateral relations in order to “compensate for the gaps that were created in previous decades”. The statement noted that Netanyahu and Marcoullis also discussed “the possible expansion of energy cooperation given that both countries have been blessed with natural gas reserves in their maritime economic zones”.
On Thursday Marcoullis said one of the ministry’s priorities was to get vocal support for its exploration rights. “We got the support we needed and are very satisfied,” she said, adding that a range of other issues were also discussed, including, “important agreements to be reached and how to boost relations with Israel and Cyprus and I think we’re on the right track”.
Israel and Cyprus have already signed over 20 agreements, with more expected during President Shimon Peres’ visit to Cyprus this autumn. Marcoullis told the Cyprus Mail negotiations are currently under way for cooperation on Search and Rescue missions between the two countries. Asked about developments on energy collaboration, the minister remained tight-lipped.
According to sources, no concrete developments were recorded on the energy issue, with the two countries’ working groups still “working” on it.
Regarding calls by Netanyahu and Liberman not to support the Palestinian quest for statehood at the UN this September, Marcoullis noted that nothing has been decided yet. “Cyprus does not yet have a position on this. We are still working with our EU partners. A serious effort is being made by the EU and the Quartet to find a solution,” she said.
Meanwhile, offshore oil and gas exploration trade magazine ‘Offshore’ reported on Wednesday that Houston-based Noble Energy reached agreement for a licence on its Cypriot concession Block 12 with Israeli-based Delek Group units Avner Oil and Gas and Delek Drilling.
According to Offshore, Noble which has had the concession to Block 12 since 2008, signed an agreement in March 2010 giving Avner and Delek Drilling an option to 30 per cent of the concession.
Under the terms of the exploration license recently agreed, Delek and Avner will bear 15 per cent of Noble’s expenditures for Block 12. The deadline for the Cypriot authorities to approve the transfer of rights to Block 12 has been extended to August 1, 2013.