Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri meeting with the Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos on the fringes of the International Security Conference in Munich on February 16, 2018 (Photo: courtesy of Egyptian Foreign Ministry Official Facebook page)
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri met Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos on 16 February on the sidelines of the International Security Conference in Munich.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman, in an official statement issued following the meeting, said the two ministers expressed their appreciation for the outstanding level of relations between Egypt and Greece. Both sides are looking forward to new developments in 2018, reflecting the strategic dimension of their relations especially in military and security cooperation in the framework of the mounting common challenges faced by the two countries.
The two sides also lauded the tripartite cooperation mechanism between Egypt, Greece and Cyprus, describing that mechanism as an excellent framework for bolstering areas of cooperation among the three countries.
The talks between Shoukri and Kammenos covered plans to fight terrorism in the region, especially in light of the increasing movement of terrorist operatives from the conflict zones in Syria and Iraq to the Mediterranean and North African regions.
In response to the Greek minister’s interest in developments in the Comprehensive Operation Sinai (COS) 2018 campaign, Shoukri outlined the important part that Egypt is playing in the fight against terrorism. Kammenos expressed his appreciation for Egyptian efforts to confront “that malignant phenomenon” at all levels. For his part, Shoukri said he appreciated Kammenos’ assessment of the mounting threats in the eastern Mediterranean region.
Observers of the Egyptian-Greek-Cypriot relationship have noted the link between these talks and various diplomatic and defence messages, and Turkey’s recent attempts to harass Cyprus and Greece against the backdrop of oil and gas explorations in areas off the shores of these countries.
Recently, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias warned that his country’s next response would not be peaceful in the event Turkey stages a repeat of the encounter between a Turkish coastal patrol vessel and a vessel belonging to the Greek coast guards in the vicinity of the Imia Island. Ankara disputes Greece’s possession of the island.
Egypt, Greece and Cyprus have held five summits. In the first, they agreed to a tripartite cooperation mechanism which succeeded in drawing maritime boundaries among the three countries. In the last summit, held in Nicosia on 21 November 2017, the three heads of state declared 2018 the year of friendship between Egypt and Greece.
Security and defence is being given the highest priority in Egyptian-Greek relations. Tangible signs of the growing closeness are to be seen in the regular Medusa joint naval manoeuvres that have taken place in tandem with the five summits, joint military manufacturing projects and the exchange of expertise.
On Tuesday, the Egyptian Armed Forces released a noteworthy communiqué affirming the cooperation. In tandem with COS 2018, the Egyptian navy is carrying out a number of missions intended to safeguard vital and strategic targets in Egypt’s territorial waters along the length of the maritime theatre and to a depth of 1,200 nautical miles in order to safeguard the nation’s economic assets and to secure investments intended to bolster the national economy.
The statement added that naval forces are working around the clock to secure vast areas of the sea, at distances remote from the shores, using all available modern, advanced combat naval hardware and capacities such as frigates, submarines, missile launches and special marine forces units for their rapid manoeuvrability.
The statement added that the Zohr natural gas field is an area of special focus in the navy’s efforts to address all potential threats.
“Egypt protects its vital interests regardless of other conditions and developments outside the scope of its vital interests,” said General Hisham Al-Halabi, a lecturer at the Higher Nasser Military Academy. “However, Turkish behaviour towards those countries, referring to Greece and Cyprus, naturally requires joint attention in light of our friendly and cooperative relations with those countries.”
Al-Halabi stressed that the authoritative frame of reference for disputes was international law. “In this respect, there is perfect clarity. Turkey has no legal capacity to claim a share of the energy resources in that area for it to display military actions.”
* This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly