Cyprus, Greece, Israel boost defence alliance

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The Defence Ministers of Greece, Israel and Cyprus have agreed to step up landmark military cooperation to keep their armed forces better prepared to maintain security in a volatile region.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said it was agreed during talks in Nicosia on Thursday to “promote large-scale industry cooperation that will bolster our defence abilities and create thousands of jobs for all three economies.”

“Today marks another important milestone in the trilateral partnership between Israel, Cyprus and Greece, as we enter into meaningful dialogue to discuss issues of mutual concern to our countries,” said Gantz.

In a 10-point joint declaration, the three Defence Ministers said: “Our countries are determined to further enhance their robust, ambitious and strategic partnership in the domains of defence and security…and jointly address common challenges and threats.”

“We remain committed for further advancing our trilateral defence and security cooperation…notably in the areas of regular coordination on issues of mutual interest, strategic consultations, maritime security, energy security, cybersecurity and defence-related research and development.”

The three countries have forged close ties amid regional tension in the Eastern Mediterranean over offshore gas exploitation rights and are partners in an ambitious project to bring gas from fields in Israeli and Cyprus through an undersea pipeline to Europe’s mainland.

Greece’s Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos said Greek, Israeli and Cypriot armed forces are working to operate together more effectively through joint training programs, intelligence sharing and cyber-security.

The three countries already conduct regular joint military exercises in the region.

Panagiotopoulos and Cyprus’ Charalambos Petrides said the three countries are looking to expand their partnership to include other countries such as the U.S. whose presence in the eastern Mediterranean the Greek minister said was important for regional stability.

“It is a common goal to implement a long-term, coherent, and substantial strategic cooperation…of good neighbourly relations with all the countries of the region,” said Panagiotopoulos.

“We also agreed to further develop our now institutionalised Trilateral Cooperation, thus sending strong and clear signals, as well as to explore the possibility of expanding it in a ‘3+’ format, the United States is, of course, included, as their presence is of particular importance for the security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he added

Greece and Cyprus are embroiled in a dispute with Turkey which has sent gas prospecting vessels into waters claimed by Greece and drilling ships into an area where Cyprus claims exclusive rights.

“Our goal is to demonstrate the mutual benefit of good neighbourly relations, when they are based on respect for international law, as well as achieve the necessary security conditions for the synergies that have emerged from the energy prospects of the Eastern Mediterranean,” said Petrides.

The tension brought NATO allies Greece and Turkey close to open conflict in the summer and autumn but has since subsided.

“We condemn Turkey’s illegal, provocative and unilateral actions in the maritime zones of Greece and Cyprus, which constitute a flagrant violation of international law of good neighbourhood relations,” said the Greek minister.

Turkey insists that it’s fully within its rights to carry out exploration in those waters but the EU has called such actions “illegal”, threatening to impose more sanctions.

The next Trilateral Defence Ministers meeting will be in Israel next year.