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Egypt, Greece, Cyprus boost military cooperation in EastMed region

Egypt, Greece and Cyprus have promoted their military relations in the face of security threats and to defend their interests in the Eastern Mediterranean that is rich in oil and gas reserves.

The defense ministers of Egypt, Cyprus and Greece held a meeting in Cairo on June 20 during which they discussed military cooperation to overcome joint security challenges and threats, especially those related to their interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, which is rich in oil and gas resources.

Egyptian Minister of Defense Mohamed Zaki stressed during the meeting the importance of supporting means of cooperation and partnership with Cyprus and Greece, which he said would help bring about security and stability in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.

Zaki also praised the fruitful cooperation between Egypt, Cyprus and Greece over the past years and the joint coordination on all issues affecting the three countries’ interests.

On the sidelines of the tripartite meeting, Zaki discussed with Greek Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos the latest developments on the regional and international scenes and their repercussions on security and stability in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean and ways to enhance cooperation and relations between the two countries’ armed forces.

Zaki also held separate talks with Cyprus’ Defense Minister Charalambos Petrides and discussed areas of military cooperation and the exchange of military experiences between the two countries.

During their separate meetings with Zaki, Panagiotopoulos and Petrides expressed appreciation for Egypt’s role in bringing about security and stability in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.

In this context, Hussein Haridi, a former Egyptian assistant foreign minister, told that military coordination between Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece underscores the strength of their relations and their interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Haridi added that the recent defense ministers’ meeting “carries a message to deter any threat to the three countries’ interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

Egypt’s relations with Cyprus and Greece have developed in recent years since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took office in 2014. During this period, the three countries have held several tripartite summits on energy, gas exploration, counterterrorism and border demarcation, and the three have repeatedly criticized Turkey’s policies in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Egypt, whose rivalry with Turkey turned into a wider regional struggle over Islamism, has shown support to Cyprus and Greece in their long disputes with Ankara.

Egypt and Cyprus signed a maritime demarcation agreement in December 2013. Egypt also announced its support to reunify the Cypriot island and repeatedly rejected Ankara’s violations of Cyprus’ territorial waters and airspace.

Since the Turkish invasion in 1974, Cyprus has been divided into a northern part run by Turkish Cypriots and a southern part run by Greek Cypriots.

Turkey is the only country that recognizes the northern part of Cyprus as a sovereign country and has no diplomatic relations with the internationally recognized government of Cyprus in Nicosia, which joined the European Union (EU) in 2004. All UN-backed efforts to reunify the island have failed.

Meanwhile, relations between Turkey and Greece, both longtime NATO members, are strained over several issues, including maritime border, their continental shelf, airspace, migrant issues and the ethnically divided island of Cyprus.

The Turkish-Greek talks to peacefully resolve their disputes resumed last year after a five-year hiatus, but no progress has been made.

In August 2020, Egypt and Greece signed an agreement to demarcate their maritime borders that effectively nullified an agreement that Turkey had signed with the Libyan Government of National Accord in Tripoli in November 2019. Back then, Egypt, Cyprus and Greece decried the Turkish-Libyan deal as illegal, considering it a violation of international law. Greece, for its part, described the deal as an infringement on its continental shelf.

Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, in addition to Israel, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, formed the Cairo-based Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) in January 2019 as a governmental organization with commercial and political goals against Turkey as well. This step has increased the Turkish feeling of isolation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The forum was established in response to Turkey claiming rights to Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), followed by Turkish onshore drilling operations for oil and gas in internationally recognized Cypriot waters. Ankara claims that its drilling activities are taking place within its continental shelf and it does not violate international law.

Erol Kaymak, a professor of political science and international relations at the Eastern Mediterranean University in Northern Cyprus, told Al-Monitor that he is not sure this military cooperation between the three countries (Egypt, Greece and Cyprus) will effectively deter Turkey. “Ankara will continue to pursue its interests