Israel, Cyprus diplomats talk regional issues


Israel and Cyprus are less than 300 miles apart, but diplomats from the two neighbors came to the District to speak about common issues facing countries in the Mediterranean region. They held their discussion, which was sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, at the Italian Embassy.

Reuven Azar, deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy, said Israel faces more than just hostile states.

“The turmoil we’re experiencing in our area is connected to much deeper civilizations within the Middle East itself,” he said.

Azar went on to explain that, while in the past Israel had to deal with countries’ ruling regimes, there are now additional groups within those countries whose clout is such that they need to be handled separately. The challenge, he said, is understanding the purpose of each group’s existence, as well as its affiliations — both political and religious —allegiances and beliefs.

He said that one of Israel’s most important goals is establishing and strengthening economic cooperation with neighbors such as Jordan.

Cyprus, meanwhile, is hoping to “serve as a strategic corridor for Israel” to open economic relations with other countries in the region, said Olympia Neocleous, deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Cyprus.

On Russia’s role in the Mediterranean, both diplomats expressed mixed feelings. Azar described an increase in Jewish immigration from Russia to Israel in recent years as “marvelous,” while Neocleous cited Russia’s “stable help” and the “special relationship between Russia and Cyprus” as positives.

But there were negatives. Azar expressed concern about Russia supplying weapons to some of Israel’s enemies, and he called Russia “a force in the Middle East” for that reason.

Neocleous discussed Cyprus’ recent admission to the European Union, saying that her country’s new foreign policy “will be anchored in the E.U. and Western structures,” and not oriented to Russia like it was in the past.

“The way to go about managing Russia is with more engagement, not with less,” she said.

Both diplomats voiced concern about Turkey, saying that they hope for improved relations with the regional giant. “Turkey can’t be ignored,” said Neocleous, adding, “Cyprus will not be intimidated.”

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