Defence Minister Savvas Angelides was in Tel Aviv on Monday for talks with his Israeli counterpart on enhancing bilateral security and defence cooperation, while Nicosia signaled its intention to beef up its military capabilities.
Angelides met with Naftali Bennett to discuss “ways to further enhance the bilateral ties between Cyprus and Israel, regional issues and issues related to energy security, as well as ways to tackle asymmetric threats”, read an earlier defence ministry press release.
Shortly before getting on a plane, Angelides was telling a local television station his trip to Israel is part of a broader policy by Nicosia of military and defence cooperation with the neighbouring country.
“Our cooperation with Israel is well known, with joint air force, special forces, naval and cyber-defence exercises. The added value to the National Guard’s operational capability is immense, due to this relationship with Israel, and we are continuously upgrading it.”
Angelides noted that Cyprus “can learn a great deal” from Israel in the areas of research and innovation.
He said Cyprus expected positive results in the immediate future in relation to “developing defence industry products, in relation to high tech, smart weapons, surveillance systems and others”.
More broadly, the defence minister said upgrading the military’s deterrence capability “is a one-way street”.
He referred to the acquisition of weapons systems or technology from other countries as being part of forging alliances with these nations – namely Israel, France and the United States.
“These are markets that need to be assessed in order that we boost our own operational capability,” he added.
A day earlier, Angelides said the recent lifting of the decades-long US embargo on arms sales to Cyprus paved the way for the purchase of US-made weapons and military materiel.
“Of course we are interested in the purchase of armaments and equipment from the United States. That is why we have set up a committee with a mandate to draw up a framework process to assess the American market as an additional option.”
His remarks seemed to be at odds with the foreign minister, who in late December was stressing that Cyprus had no intention on of procuring American arms. Rather, Nikos Christodoulides said at the time, the lifting of the US arms embargo held more political and symbolic value.
Asked about the potential of creating a local arms manufacturing industry, Angelides said:
“We are considering heavy weapons as well as matters related to technology, research and development of specific products.”
He said public-private partnerships with research centres and academia, local industry and businesses could spur the development of a homegrown armaments industry.
In addition, cooperation with countries like Israel and France could soon yield results in terms of Cyprus developing its own products.
“We are looking at surveillance systems, smart weapons, intelligence, personnel management, armaments management, software – yes, all this can be accomplished,” Angelides said.
Last week, on the back of reports in foreign media, the defence ministry confirmed an order of French surface-to-air Mistral missiles as well as Exocet anti-ship missiles worth some €240m.
The weapons sale comes at a time of rising tensions in the eastern Mediterranean as Turkey carries out illegal drilling operations in Cypriot waters.
Nicosia meantime has reiterated that Turkish activity in the seas will not deter it from pursuing its own energy programme as scheduled.
According to reports, the consortium of Total and ENI are planning to drill for natural gas in block 8, in late March or early April.
On this, Angelides declined to confirm the date of the drill, but said Cyprus is taking all necessary steps to ensure the operation is not interfered with.
He also appealed to the media not to divulge information in the interim that could harm the island’s energy programme.