Israel's cooperation with Egypt and the strengthening of relations with other Gulf states contribute to peace, while enabling Israel and Cyprus to work together with other friendly nations, Sammy Revel says in an interview with Kathimerini.
The Israeli Ambassador to Nicosia uses warm words when referring to Cyprus, stating that his country is committed to the EastMed pipeline but also to collaboration with Cyprus and Greece. He also reiterates what is at issue in Israeli regional foreign policy as he responds to questions on relations with Turkey.
What is the secret of Israel's success in fighting the pandemic?
In recent months, Israel is leading a very extensive vaccination campaign. To date, well over 50 per cent of the Israeli population is already vaccinated. This has been made possible through agreements with leading vaccine companies, as well as the advanced Health System in Israel.
At what stage is the production of a drug for COVID-19?
There are already several different clinical trials and a few companies and research teams have published promising results. This is based on the advanced capabilities of Israel in research and innovation. This presents also an important opportunity in the relations with Cyprus.
Israel and Cyprus have close ties in the Medical field. In recent years, the Israeli and Cypriot ecosystems of Research and Development have also come close together. We are investing a lot of efforts to develop common projects in the fields of Health and Innovation.
Is the vaccination certification for Israel necessary for a return to normalcy for Israelis and visitors?
Certainly, the vaccination certificate and the green passport are an important part of our efforts to restart the economy and cultural activity in the days after the Covid-19. It helps very much in our efforts to renew travel.
In Israel, this certificate is also used to facilitate the entry of vaccinated people into cultural and sports events, restaurants etc.
Are Cyprus and Greece considered safe destinations for Israeli tourists?
There is a lot of interest among Israelis to explore the possibility to travel to Cyprus. The first priority is to ensure health and safety and the situation is still complex. Yet, I believe that, based on our close neighbourly relations, we can open the door to boost business, as well as tourism. This is important for both Israel and Cyprus.
Taking all necessary measures, Cyprus opened its borders to Israeli visitors from 1st of April. The official Israeli vaccination certificate is recognized to further facilitate travel. There is a gradual process to restart tourism, while ensuring safety.
Is there room for agreement with Cyprus on the issue that has arisen with the Aphrodite gas field?
The Ministries of Energy of Cyprus and Israel have recently agreed on guidelines for the talks between the companies which have the licenses to develop Aphrodite and Ishai reservoirs. We hope the negotiations between the companies will lead soon to an agreement between them. In case needed they will also be able to turn to professional expertise. Their agreement will have to be approved by the two governments. Such an agreement on the “Aphrodite-Ishai” reservoirs straddling the EEZ’s of Cyprus and Israel is a win-win for our cooperation in the field of Natural Gas and more widely on Energy.
How does Israel deal with the EastMed pipeline rerouting? Can the EastMed project be considered competitive by other countries in the region, such as Egypt?
The discoveries of Natural Gas reserves in our region are an important opportunity. Very significant amounts of Natural Gas have been discovered and, in addition to regional markets, there is an opportunity to export it to Europe.
In this perspective, Israel, Cyprus, Greece and other European partners have joined hands to promote the EastMed pipeline project. The signing last year of the EASTMED pipeline agreement between Israel, Cyprus and Greece was a major step forward. We are committed to the development of this important project.
At the same time and in view of the vast Natural Gas reserves in our region, there are reports about additional possible projects. These are complementary and should not be seen as competing with our strong existing partnership.
Is there anything that worries Israel in tightening its relations with Egypt in the field of energy? Can the pipeline that runs to Egypt be considered as Israel turning its attention to Egypt for the exportation of the quantities of Israeli deposits?
The cooperation with Egypt is very important. The clear demonstration is the establishment of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum with Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Greece and other countries. It is the first such of a kind forum – which can greatly contribute to regional cooperation on Natural Gas and beyond.
We truly believe that we should maximize our efforts to cooperate with all like-minded countries in our region.
Israel has recently taken significant steps to normalize its relations with the Gulf states. What are the next steps?
The relations with the Gulf countries created a new reality in our region. The Abraham accords have introduced high level relations, as well as a great degree of openness between the people. This is very important and we very much hope that it will deepen the relations with the UAE, Bahrain and other countries in the region.
These relations are an important contribution to peace. This is also an important opportunity for Israel and Cyprus to cooperate together with other friendly countries on issues, such as health, environment, economic development and more.
Is the United States targeting its traditional allies (Israel and Saudi Arabia) in order to appease Iran?
Between Israel and the United States there is a steadfast strategic alliance. We work closely together facing challenges in our region.
The radical regime in Iran presents a wider threat. Not only to Israel or the Gulf countries. This is a global threat, due to the continued development of Iran’s military nuclear program, the development by Iran of long-range missiles and its support of radical ideology and terrorism. A clear example is the current situation in Lebanon and the threat presented by the Hezbollah terrorist organization.
As far as the tripartite cooperations are concerned, do you see any fatigue or are they developing with the same initial momentum?
On the contrary, we see lot of dynamism in the Israel, Cyprus, Greece trilateral cooperation. Recently, the Prime Minister of Greece and the President of Cyprus visited Israel and the trilateral cooperation was at the top of the agenda. in recent months, we have had an important trilateral meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Athens. We also had a trilateral meeting of the Ministers of Defence. In the Energy field, an MOU between Israel, Cyprus and Greece was signed to develop the Euro-Asia interconnector electrical cable. We will continue to work to develop common projects in the trilateral framework. This will be even more important as we move to re-dynamize our economies in the days after the Coronavirus.
How can the Turkey-Israel relations be described?
I prefer to describe Israel’s foreign policy. Our policy is clearly directed to promote stability, security and prosperity in our region. This is what is also driving the trilateral partnership with Cyprus and Greece to which Israel is truly committed.
What are the prospects of the relations between Cyprus and Israel?
The relations between Israel and Cyprus have been significantly upgraded in recent years. We share the values of democracy and face important regional challenges and opportunities. Our relations are based on a close friendship between the Cypriot and Israeli people.
The story was published in Kathimerini Cyprus paper edition on 11 April 2021