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Strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean – Cyprus and Israel: A New Geopolitical Equation

Author: George N. Tzopoulos

Affiliation: Middle East Quarterly

Organization/Publisher: Middle East Quarterly

Date/Place: Fall 2023/NM

Type of Literature: Journal Article

Number of Pages: 11


Keywords: Cyprus, Israel, Jerusalem, Nicosia, Palestine


In this article, Tzopoulos covers the complex and fluid geopolitical landscape in the Eastern Mediterranean, more specifically the evolving relationship between Cyprus, Israel, the Palestinians and Turkey. For four decades following its independence in 1960, Cyprus pursued close relations with the Palestinians and the larger Arab world to gain wider recognition of its cause, until its strategic shift towards Israel after the 1960s. Meanwhile, Israel likewise starts to shift its regional strategy from prioritizing military relations with Ankara to giving Cyprus and Greece a central role in its regional strategy. This was especially the case as Turkish-Israeli relations started to decline after 2008, the regional balance shifted as Cyprus and Greece began to align more with Israel and with the US, despite simultaneously aiming to not entirely alienate the Palestinian Authority (PA). The recent discovery of natural gas resources in the region and the possibility of natural gas pipelines from Israel to pass through either Cyprus and Greece, or Northern Cyprus and Turkey has been a critical factor in the regional landscape in recent years. The author argues that the island’s role in regional geopolitics is only set to grow in the coming years.

The “Cyprus Problem”:

In exchange for support on the Cyprus question, Cyprus offered support on the Palestinian issue, and maintained a diplomatic understanding with Arab countries. This was the main dynamic that affected Cypriot-Israeli relations. At the same time, Israeli-Turkish relations were warming. However, as Israel decided to reduce its isolation and improve its position and trade in the region, the strategic importance of Cyprus became apparent. In regional affairs, some of the most important turning points for strengthening Israeli-Cypriot relations were the aftermath of the Six-Day War, Yom Kippur War and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Before Israel and Cyprus improved their relations, Cyprus prioritized relations with Arab countries and Israel maintained military ties with Ankara. Despite the booming Israeli-Turkish relations and Israel viewing its close ties with Türkiye as a significant foreign policy achievement, Israel did not recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.’’ The dynamics between Israel-Türkiye and Cyprus-Arab countries started to change, influenced by the modifications in existing strategic choices.

A New Regional Foreign Policy:

As Turkish-Israeli relations started to deteriorate beginning in 2008, Cyprus and Greece started to distance themselves from Türkiye and align with Israel, and advance their strategic interests by forming partnerships with influential regional players. Cyprus had previously officially recognized the state of Palestine in 1988, opened a PLO embassy in Nicosia and designated a Cypriot representative in Ramallah, overall underscoring its commitment to the Palestinian cause. The shift in Cypriot foreign policy was evident when Cypriot authorities prevented pro-Palestinian activists who wanted to leave the island to join the Mavi Marmara flotilla bound for Gaza in 2010, notifying activists that Cypriot ports were not available for launching challenges against the Israeli blockade of Gaza in 2011. The same year, then-Cypriot president Dimitris Christofias called Israel one of Cyprus’ “most important strategic partners” after a visit to the country. This was a milestone in their diplomatic relations as it became clear that Cyprus was taking advantage of the Turkish-Israeli tensions to increase its strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean by strengthening ties with Israel.

As time passed and trust between Israel and Cyprus strengthened, the cooperation between them developed as well. Their collaboration included military exercises, such as the IDF holding drills in Cyprus. Cyprus demonstrated understanding of the security concerns of Israel, and welcomed the Abraham Accords held in 2020 and expressed willingness to participate in joint projects with the parties of the accords. Since Cyprus decided to shift strategically towards Israel, beginning with the tensions in Türkiye-Israel relations, their strategic partnership never stopped deepening and Cyprus benefited from this economically, politically and socially – to the extent where there was a significant increase in Israeli tourists visiting Cyprus and a rise in bilateral trade from $950.7 million in 2014 to $1.33 billion.

The Palestinian Factor:

In the meantime, the Cypriot government tried to balance its policy shift, especially since there was a perceived risk to its previously warm relations with the Arab world and regarding the Palestinian issue in particular. On the other hand, Northern Cyprus recognized the state of Palestine within its 1967 borders and openly stood in solidarity with Palestine after the Gaza crisis in 2008. Meanwhile, Cyprus sometimes abstained during debates on resolutions concerning the protection of Palestinians.

Despite its previous support towards Palestine, the strengthening of relations with Israel led Cyprus to remain neutral regarding Israel’s actions. Despite its support for the Palestinian cause, Cyprus has adopted what the author calls a balanced position in UN votes. It is questionable however if its support for the oppressive Israeli state can truly be called balanced. This is likely due to Cyprus’ concern of Türkiye’s possible influence on the Palestinian Authority (PA) and that it might encourage the PA to align with Turkish positions in the Eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus also considers Türkiye’s efforts to persuade partners to recognize Northern Cyprus as the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’’ as a threat, since Türkiye currently advocates for a two-state solution on the island. 

Eastern Mediterranean Energy: 

The Biden administration’s withdrawal of support for the East Med pipeline led Türkiye to seek out other options and discuss a subsea pipeline to Ceyhan with Israel. Due to its passage through the waters of Northern Cyprus, the project is controversial due to the unresolved nature of the Cyprus question. There are alternative pipeline options for Cyprus, Israel and Greece. 

Expectations from Israel and Türkiye: 

In general, we can notice a pattern that when relations between Israel and Türkiye deteriorate, the strategic alignment of Cyprus and Israel increases. This process is facilitated by the lack of trust between Israel and Türkiye. In 2022, diplomatic relations between Israel and Türkiye were normalizing again, and this led to the removal of conditions that allowed common ground between Cyprus and Israel. Despite Türkiye’s interest of reconciling with Israel to appease Washington, Türkiye’s past cooperation with Hamas and its condemnation of Israel on certain issues led to concerns. The future of Israeli-Turkish ties remain uncertain, but for Israel’s regional strategy, selective policies in the Eastern Mediterranean are likely.

Closer to the West:

Cyprus faces obstacles to NATO membership due to Turkish objections and the unresolved Cyprus question. Meanwhile, the US has explored opportunities for deeper military collaboration, France has expanded military cooperation with Cyprus through a defense cooperation agreement and for naval base upgrades, highlighting the island’s growing geopolitical role. 


Despite the benefits of Israeli-Cypriot relations and strategic cooperation with Israel, collaboration is not a solution to the Cyprus conflict. With its two-state solution on the island, Türkiye and international uncertainty are complicating the geopolitical landscape. In essence, the author reflects the complex geopolitical landscape in the Eastern Mediterranean, shaped by the evolving relationships among Cyprus, Israel, and Turkey. It highlights the challenges, diplomatic intricacies, and shifting dynamics in this region, indicating a fluid and nuanced scenario where strategic alignments continuously evolve.

While the author does a good job of covering the geopolitical complexities of the region, some of his statements or positions reflect a bias. There are many things that the author takes for granted about the state of Northern Cyprus, Israel and Palestine. Throughout the article, he adopts a pro-Israel approach. The most basic examples of this approach are that he recognizes and talks about Jerusalem as if it were the capital of Israel, when East Jerusalem is legally and internationally recognized as part of the West Bank and under Israeli occupation since 1967. Despite Israel declaring the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, international law and the United Nations does not recognize it as its capital. Thus, identifying Jerusalem as the capital of Israel instead of Tel Aviv justifies the Israeli occupation in West Bank, and East Jerusalem in particular. Also, Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the Occupied West Bank is referred to as being in Israel. The author refers to the Gaza Massacre in 2009 as the Gaza Crisis, which is biased and wrong. The massacre resulted in death of almost 1500 Palestinians and an Israeli death toll of less than 15. Using correct terminology is crucial when it comes to war, occupation, and even basic human rights. The author, a Cypriot, does not recognize Northern Cyprus as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and believes the Turkish intervention to be an invasion.  Therefore, in his article, when it comes to Cyprus and Türkiye, the author writes as if Türkiye does not have rights in the Eastern Mediterranean, but rather ambitions for the region. I believe that these approaches might be problematic, considering that there is a such thing as international law and justice.

By: Dilara Özdemir, CIGA Research Intern



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