Rivlin gets warm welcome in Cyprus

Despite the brevity of his visit – barely a day – President Reuven Rivlin received a full ceremonial welcome at the Presidential Palace in Larnaca from President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus on Tuesday morning.

After lunch Rivlin flew to Nicosia where some 52,000 Jews – nearly all of them Holocaust survivors – had been interned by the British who would not allow the illegal immigrants to disembark from the ships which brought them from displaced persons camps in Europe to the Promised Land.

Because Britain exercised its colonial power over both Cyprus and what was then Palestine, there was a natural bonding between the Cypriots and the Jews who were determined to foil the common enemy.

During the period of detention, 2,200 Jewish babies were born in Cyprus, many of them in the British Military Hospital, which is now an army camp for Cypriot soldiers. A monument to the babies born to Holocaust survivor parents in Cyprus stands in the camp.

At the ceremony there, Rivlin said that the story of the immigrants is a story of heroism and hope. It was the hope that helped them realize the dream to eventually get to Israel, he said.

Among the Cypriot dignitaries attending the ceremony were President of the Cypriot parliament Demetris Syllouris and Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs and Overseas Cypriots Photis Photiou.

Cypriot government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou stated that this was the third visit to Cyprus by a president of Israel. The first had been by Ezer Weizman in 1998, and the second by Shimon Peres in 2011.

Rivlin’s visit to Cyprus is within the context of the trilateral agreement between Israel, Cyprus and Greece, and the mutual efforts on all three sides to upgrade their relations with each other.

After the two presidents reviewed the honor guard, Rivlin laid a wreath at the statue of the late Archbishop Makarios, who was his country’s first president after it gained independence from the British in August, 1960

Makarios served three terms. In Israel, a president can only serve a single seven-year term.

During their private working meeting, Rivlin quipped to his host that he realized that there was a little tension in the air due to the fact that Cyprus came second to Israel in the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. He was hopeful that this year’s Eurovision would give him the opportunity to meet with Anastasiades in Tel Aviv.

Following their meeting, the two presidents made statements to the media.

Rivlin said that as a result of the close cooperation between Israel and Cyprus, the Mediterranean has become much safer. He emphasized that security ties between the two countries have never been better.

“The Israel-Cyprus partnership is an island of friendship, democracy and creativity, in the often stormy Mediterranean Sea,” said Rivlin adding that though blessed with much potential for productive partnerships, the region has in recent years been beset by suffering and conflict.

Rivlin listed some of the areas of cooperation between the two countries, primarily in the fields of intelligence, security, and the fight against terrorism.

In economic terms annual bilateral trade is in the realm of $650 million.

In reference to the trilateral agreement with Greece, Rivlin said that the three countries aim to form a shared economy based on the flow of energy, information and electricity. The prime focus at the present time, he said, is on developing the eastern Mediterranean pipeline. “This could be one of the great underwater projects in the world,” Rivlin enthused, noting that the partnership can be expanded to include Italy, Egypt and Jordan – and even the Palestinian Authority.

Anastasiades noted the joint commitment by Cyprus and Israel to the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline project, which he said would diversify Europe’s hydrocarbons supply and bolster its energy security.

“Our synergies are beacons of hope,” said Anastasiades.

He characterized Rivlin’s visit as “an important milestone” in relations between the two countries and recalled that after the Holocaust, the Cypriot people had taken in many survivors of that “terrible tragedy,” and many Jewish babies were born in Cyprus. “Today, we are in a new era of partnership based on our shared values,” he said, and spoke of deepening cooperation in all the areas mentioned by Rivlin. “Israel is an important strategic partner for us and an important power in regional security. We will continue to deepen relations facing the various emerging challenges as well as the opportunities they present,” said the Cypriot President.

Israeli-Cypriot relations have blossomed in the last decade following gas discoveries in waters off both countries.

Among the Israelis who accompanied Rivlin to Cyprus were Col. Amnon Sharon and Miriam Milo. Sharon, the son of Holocaust survivors, was born in the British Military Hospital. An officer in the IDF, who fought in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Sharon was taken prisoner and was held by the Syrians for eight months. Milo, who is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, was born in Europe and came as a three-year-old to Cyprus with her parents.

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