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Israeli-Cypriot Relations: A Special and Strategic Relationship that Transcends Time

Updated: Sep 17, 2018

Event Overview by Gabrielle Chishinsky

On Thursday, October 19th, American University’s Center for Israel Studies hosted Leonidas Pantelides- the Cypriot Ambassador to the United States, Einat Weiss from the Israeli Embassy, and Professor Dan Arbell who discussed the strategic and special relationship between Israel and Cyprus.

Leonidas Pantelides is Cyprus’ Ambassador to the United States. Hoping to become a teacher after earning his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Kent in 1983, he instead entered an extensive career in diplomacy, including his tenure as the former Cypriot Ambassador to Sweden, Greece, and Russia.

The distinctive relationship between Israel and Cyprus has evolved for centuries as they share a far-reaching history, with the ambassador playfully pointing out that the Cyprus-Israel relationship is “older than Aristotle”. For example, the Greeks, Cypriots, and Jews are all biblical people. The Jews gave an image of God, which has pervaded history to this very day. The Cyprus-Israel relationship possesses a strong foundation marked by two ancient communities who were able to articulate certain ideas that are still around today.

Einat Weiss brought up other similarities between Israel and Cyprus. For instance, Israel and Cyprus are two very small countries, but they are certainly important actors in the Middle East region. Israel and Cyprus represent vital histories and strong economies. In addition, Cyprus shares Israel’s democratic values. At the core of the Israeli-Cypriot relationship is its strategic nature, which is 100% why the relationship is so significant. The two countries possess mutually shared interests. Their relationship is so strategic because they are both small nations surrounded by hostile forces and together can accomplish shared goals and objectives such as promoting democracy and other common values.

Einat Weiss indicated that countries are looking for amicable neighbors and partnerships in an area often facing turmoil. This situation in the Middle East has led to a stronger relationship between Israel and Cyprus. Building on this, the ambassador declared that the basis for the relationship is more existential; both small countries feel threatened and that they might disappear under certain conditions. Also, Israel and Cyprus are neighbors with similar political structures and shared values.

Ambassador Pantelides touched on an obscure fact about the Israeli-Cypriot relationship by explaining how many Israelis travel to Cyprus to get married because it is cheaper for Israelis to get married there, even cheaper than for Cypriots to get married in their own country. Israel and Cyprus’ adjoining Exclusive Economic Zones were also brought up during the panel, with Ambassador Pantelides asserting that Turkish threats to violence and claims to the Exclusive Economic Zone will not resort to violence.

In a region of the world often beset by chaos and instability, Israel and Cyprus emerge as natural partners. They both possess similar political structures and shared values. A mutual history, shared democratic principles, strategic interests, and robust economies bolster the Israeli-Cypriot special relationship. Israel and Cyprus are comparable in size to New Jersey and Delaware respectively, but they both are dynamic players in the Middle East.  The event made clear that relations between the two countries are not only tenacious but also will continue to thrive and grow for many years to come. I took away a deeper understanding of a relationship that is not often underscored when examining the Middle East region but is one that is critical in advancing the democratic values we so ardently uphold.

Gabrielle is a junior at American University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in International Studies with a minor in Political Science. Gabrielle’s thematic area focuses include Foreign Policy & National Security,  as well as Global & Comparative Governance with a regional focus in the Middle East. She is currently a Research Assistant for Professor Erran Carmel’s “Business in the Capital” initiative in Kogod, which examines businesses, industries, and policy issues in the Greater Washington area. This past summer she interned in the Public Diplomacy department at the Embassy of Israel in Washington D.C. and went on a Birthright Academic trip entitled “Conflict Management and Counter-Terrorism in Israel and the Middle East” at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya. In addition, Gabrielle plans on studying and interning this summer at Tel Aviv University!”

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