Excellent Prospects Ahead
Based in Cyprus since August 2021, the current Ambassador of the State of Israel, Oren Anolik, is very familiar with the two countries’ well-established bilateral and business ties. A charismatic and eloquent speaker, the Ambassador is confident that both nations have a lot to gain from continuing to work well together.
“Israel and Cyprus have excellent mutual relations. This has not always been the case, but a very positive trend has been seen for over a decade now,” he notes.
Anolik believes that sharing similar values has created a further rapport built on common interests and each country’s ability to provide something of importance to the other.
“Israel can bring technologies and innovation to the table as well as a vibrant atmosphere and creativity,” he says, adding, “Cyprus brings us excellent services and access to the EU market. If we look at what we call like-minded countries, Cyprus is the closest like-minded country that we have in the world,” he notes.
Anolik elaborates that our geographical proximity makes doing business that much easier, “It can take you longer to get from a point in northern Israel to a point in southern Israel than it does to get to Cyprus from Israel, and vice versa.”
He goes on to recall how, “In 2019, before the pandemic, air traffic between Israel and Cyprus was, I believe, at its highest point ever. Almost 300,000 Israeli travellers visited Cyprus in 2019 and more than 40,000 Cypriots went to Israel.” Many of them were businesspeople, making the most of the frequent flights.
“I think that, as the pandemic subsides, the biggest advantage of Cyprus to Israeli tourists is that it is very much an instantaneous destination,” the Ambassador adds, continuing, “I have no doubt that we will see a huge increase in the number of tourists in 2022. Whereas young Israeli tourists love vacationing in Cyprus, I would like to encourage young Cypriots to experience first-hand what Israel has to offer them. In addition to the Holy places, business centres and innovation labs, Tel Aviv night life will appeal to the partygoers”.
Tourism, along with finance and trade, is also a sector in which there already exists a considerable amount of Cyprus-Israel investment, including major hotel groups such as Fattal Group and Brown Hotels, several restaurants and TUS Airways.
“We have already had some major investments from Israeli companies here and there are others in the pipeline,” Anolik reveals.
Cyprus can also benefit from its relatively low real estate prices, says Anolik, noting that, once post-pandemic normality is in place, an increase in Israeli interest in Cyprus’ housing market is anticipated. Meanwhile, major local real estate projects involving Israeli companies include the Larnaca port and Marina project, a €1 billion venture and said to be Cyprus’ largest-ever investment project. It is being undertaken by Kition Ocean Holdings, a consortium of Israeli and Cypriot interests.
“The Marina is bringing about a fascinating change to Larnaca and Cyprus in general. I am very happy that Israeli companies are involved in this and I hope that, even during my tenure here, I will be able to see how this affects the Cypriot economy,” Anolik confides.
Moreover, the Abraham Accords – treaties normalising diplomatic relations between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, by which the four states joined Egypt and Jordan in making peace with Israel – have also positively impacted Cyprus-Israel bilateral relations.
“Today, especially after the Abraham Accords were signed, it is as if we are all looking towards one another. We are seeing what we can do together in this region of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.”
He suggests that joint projects in the future could include bringing in financing from the Gulf States for investments in renewable energy and water conservation, which Anolik describes as a tremendously important issue for the region.
It is worth noting that there has already been Israeli investment in desalination plants in Episkopi and Larnaca.
Energy is also a very important sector for cooperation, Anolik adds, both in terms of natural gas and also looking to the future and the necessity to reduce fossil fuel usage, “We in this region can do a lot when it comes to renewable energy. It is a priority for us in Israel and a priority here as well.” Delek Group, an Israeli conglomerate, meanwhile, already plays an important role in Cyprus’ energy sector.
The island’s size and location, Anolik continues, make it a perfect place for pilot programmes, technologies and ideas to be tried out on a relatively small scale ahead of their wider implementation.
The Ambassador elaborates, “We are now involved in a very interesting project with some Cypriot companies. We are trying to create some pilot projects in which we are bringing mature Israeli technology on renewable energy, as well as on energy storage which is ‘the’ issue today in terms of energy, to the table.”
To this end, Israeli stakeholders are looking for partners in Cyprus to implement the pilot programme which, if successful, can then be expanded elsewhere.
On opening up the two countries’ relations to others, the Ambassador underlines the value of the trilateral relations Israel and Cyprus share with Greece.
“There is a huge advantage to bringing three countries together. It creates a sense of alliance. And in each joining side of the triangle: Israel-Cyprus, Israel-Greece, Cyprus-Greece, there are very good relations, a lot of understanding one another very well because we face the same challenges,” he continues.
Trilateral relations also create a more welcoming dynamic for cooperation with others on all types of issues, from climate change to digitalization, whether these third parties are the US, Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, or anyone else, the Ambassador suggests.
“We can do more together and create a nucleus that others can join. It is important that this is a very positive thing and not directed against anyone. It is a kind of open alliance, an open partnership which others can join based on their values and interests,” he explains.
Anolik reveals that he was present when President Nicos Anastasiades visited Israel last December to meet with Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriacos Mitsotakis and Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for a trilateral summit.
“It was fascinating to watch, from close-up, the chemistry between those three leaders, the kind of relations that they almost instantly developed; it was also interesting in terms of what it means to be a leader,” he notes.
One of the issues discussed was fighting wildfires and a statement from Bennett after the meeting indicated that a mechanism was being sought for action to be taken as quickly as possible.
Anolik notes, “In the case of energy as well, it is in our interest to bring together as many resources as we can. So, we have already brought Greece, Cyprus and Israel together and we are expanding on it. If we can bring all these resources together, it is cost-effective and improves relations. We are happy to see that our friends are very interested in this and we look forward to further developing it along the road,” he adds.
According to the Ambassador, another example of strong wider relations is the eight-country Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), which brings together different countries from the region (including Israel and Cyprus) “to work on an issue that is important to all of us and to be better coordinated and to find the best way for all of us to enjoy this resource.”
Israeli investment has also taken place in the sectors of healthcare, education and culture, including the Paphos Innovation Institute and the Nicosia Rehabilitation Centre. Ambassador Anolik is confident a lot of scope remains for further pan-sector collaboration.
“It all depends on what direction the Cyprus economy will take,” he says. “I really think that there is opportunity in this green world and Cyprus wants to become a greener place. Israel very much supports Cyprus’ regional initiative on climate change. So, it creates this kind of possibility and opportunity,” he adds.
Anolik reveals that his conversations with people in Cyprus, as well as what he has been reading, indicate that the environment is becoming a major issue in next year’s presidential elections.
“When it comes to cleantech, that includes renewables and water management, Israel is considered a world leader. Its expertise could be applied here since Cyprus is very keen to develop this area in the short term,” he notes.
While acknowledging that agriculture may no longer play as significant a role in the Cypriot and Israeli economies as in the past, the Ambassador says that it nonetheless remains important, noting that both countries could benefit further by developing water leakage technologies, entering new areas of production such as aromatic plants as well as focusing on products which are “trending” and have a big market in Europe.
Agriculture also played a part in some of the earliest Israeli business dealings in Cyprus.
Indeed, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, who recently paid an official visit to Cyprus, has family ties here, which serve to illustrate how long Cyprus-Israel cooperation has existed. As far back as 1933, Herzog’s grandfather was one of early investors in the Fasouri plantation, one of several businesses that he and other Israeli businessmen established in Cyprus.
Ambassador Anolik would like to expand the diverse, rich, beneficial business relations to the young people. He strongly believes that young entrepreneurs doing business together, developing projects and partnering in start-ups will help build a better future for all. Art, culture, leisure and lifestyle can be additional fields in which people from both countries, especially the young ones, can cooperate in. This cooperation might include joining hands in food and entertainment businesses, art and culture exchanges, academic and educational related projects.
Taking all this into account, Anolik concludes, “We have a past together, we have a present which is quite extensive and multifaceted. We have a partnership that is growing stronger and stronger in many fields and I think that, looking forward, we can be very optimistic about the possibilities that will solidify the alliance, and strengthen the friendship between the people of Israel and Cyprus.”