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Israel, Greece, Cyprus Form Regional Emergency Response Force

In the wake of last month’s damaging wildfires in Haifa, the Israeli government announced Thursday that it would partner with Greece and Cyprus—two of the countries who assisted in putting out the fires—to create a regional emergency response force.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the announcement after meeting with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in Jerusalem to discuss issue of regional cooperation.

The new initiative will improve coordination during natural disasters or other crises by creating a joint command center—which could potentially include other countries in the region.  This partnership will “greatly help security and assuring the lives of the citizens of all countries here in the region as well as in other countries,” Netanyahu said.

Greece and Cyprus were among the first nations to respond to Israel’s request for aid, sending personnel and equipment to Israel to fight the fires.

The three leaders are also meeting to discuss the joint development of recently-discovered natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The three countries also signed a joint research agreement. This builds off their last meeting in Cyprus in January, where they agreed to form a committee to study the feasibility of building a pipeline from Israel to Cyprus to Greece as a means of exporting natural gas to Europe.

The emerging alliance between Israel, Greece, and Cyprus is significant because “up until the early 2000’s Greece and Cyprus were among the most critical countries toward Israel in Europe,” Jerusalem Post diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon explained. Relations improved after the discovery of the natural gas fields, as well as in reaction to Israeli diplomatic tensions with Turkey, a rival to the two other countries. (Israel has in recent years largely restored its ties with Turkey, and returned an ambassador to Ankara this week after a six-year absence.)

Greece’s growing ties with Israel reflect a “strategic choice” and are viewed as a “lever for growth,” Tsipras said, adding that Greece looks to become “an energy transit center for Israeli and Cypriot natural gas to Europe.” Development rights to two Israeli gas fields have been sold to Greek companies, giving the country a more concrete stake in development of the resource.

[Photo: IsraeliPM / YouTube ]