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Our View: Realism needed on power of regional agreements

“THE UPGRADING of relations with Israel and Egypt is the answer to Turkey’s provocations by Nicosia which, in the last few days, has become the centre of intense diplomatic and political activity,” reported Sigmalive. The visit of Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday was followed by the arrival of Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Thursday while yesterday what was referred to as the ‘summit meeting’ of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt took place in Cairo.

For some time now, politicians, commentators and some academics have been arguing that Cyprus should build alliances with neighbouring countries – as well as distant countries such as the Russian Federation – as a counter to Turkey’s bullying tactics. These calls became much louder after the issuing of the NAVTEX and the entry of the Barbaros, accompanied by Turkish frigates, into the Cyprus EEZ. The general theory is that if Cyprus forged military alliances with countries like Israel, Russia and of course Greece, Turkey would think twice about sending ships into our EEZ and threatening to drill there.

It is a very superficial theory, the assumptions of which cannot stand up to rational scrutiny. The first assumption is based on an over-estimation of Cyprus’ military capability. Cyprus, a tiny country with no military means, would bring nothing to a military alliance apart from its geographical position, so what incentive would any country have to join forces with it? The second erroneous assumption is that there are countries prepared to risk a confrontation with Turkey, not in the defence of their own borders but in order to help Cyprus. Not even Greece is prepared to take such a risk so why do we assume any other country would do so?

The facts do not support this theory. This government has been making overtures to Israel from the day it came to power but has not even secured a commitment for co-operation on the exploitation of natural gas, because Tel Aviv probably has different plans. As for the notion that Israel would join forces with Cyprus at the risk of opening a front with Turkey, it is too ludicrous for words – as if Israel does not have enough enemies in the region and would want to add another. Relations between Tel Aviv and Ankara may be strained at present, but it is a fallacy to think Israel would go out of its way to make them worse.

As for Egypt, its government has enough trouble keeping a lid on its own domestic problems and, quite rightly, does not see a co-operation extending beyond trade and energy. This does not diminish the importance of yesterday’s summit in Cairo, but there is a need to put things in perspective and not build expectations out of possibilities that do not exist. Samaras made this clear, without spelling it out, during his two-day visit. His speeches focused on the protection and support Cyprus could rely on as a member-state of the EU “for which it had become a valuable asset”, implicitly downplaying the security value of regional alliances.

Samaras’ emphasis on the role Cyprus could play for the EU on the energy front was also an answer to our politicians, the overwhelming majority of whom have been calling for a strengthening of ties with Moscow urging the government to enter a defence agreement with Russia and provide it with military facilities on the island. In this way they foolishly think Russia would counter the Turkish threats. All that needs to be said in this respect is that trade between Russia and Turkey is currently worth $35 billion and the presidents of the two countries have said their target was to reach $100 billion by 2020. Only a deluded and naive Cypriot politician could think Moscow would risk alienating such an important trading partner for the sake of Cyprus.

To his credit, Samaras tried to direct us away from this misguided thinking by stressing the importance of belonging to the EU and reminding us that we could play a big part in the Union’s energy policy and planning. This is not to say Cyprus should not pursue regional co-operation and alliances with other countries. Of course it should, because it could only benefit from such co-operation, but there is also a need to keep things in perspective and remind people that no country will take on Turkey on our behalf.

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