The main news to emerge from President Anastasiades’ one-day visit to Israel on Sunday was that vaccinated Israelis would be free to travel to Cyprus without a PCR test and would not be placed in quarantine upon arrival. This must have been music to the ears of hoteliers and other tourism businesspeople as it opened the door for visitors from Israel and, potentially, other countries too.
In comments after their meeting Anastasiades and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both “stressed the excellent relations between the two countries in all sectors, noting the prospects for their further deepening.” Netanyahu referred to energy, water management, tourism, public security and health as the areas of cooperation.
There was no mention by either leader, in the official announcements, to the issue of defence, which was discussed by the two defence ministers. In a post on his Twitter account Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz said: “Enjoyed meeting my friend, Cyprus’ Defence Minister today. We discussed our strong defence ties – beneficial to the entire region – and agreed to relaunch our joint military and naval training exercises ASAP, while continuing to expand our industrial cooperation.”
Cyprus Defence Minister Charalambos Petrides was quoted by Phileleftheros as saying that they discussed “the upgrading of military and defence cooperation between the ministries and the armed forces.” The building of closer relations with Israel is a commendable objective but is military and defence cooperation necessary for achieving this objective? We ask because it is difficult to see what Cyprus would gain from the upgrading of military cooperation with Israel and participating in naval exercises, considering we do not have a navy in the conventional sense. Would it improve, even marginally, the defence capability of a country without a navy or an air force?
In the past, joint military exercises involved Israeli troops carrying out exercises on Cyprus territory, from which Cyprus had no tangible benefit. Israel is a regional military power with a lot of enemies. Do we really want to be seen by these enemies as a military ally of Israel, especially as we do not seem to have anything to gain from such an alliance? It has not stopped Turkey’s continuous violations of our EEZ or its bullying and only a simpleton would think that Israel would offer us any protection against Turkey. It is not in its national interests to do so. By the same logic, it is not Cyprus’ national interest to be seen to have any military links with Israel.
We should carry on expanding and improving our cooperation on energy, public security, water management, tourism, health as well as other sectors, but cooperation on defence is unnecessary for Cyprus.