The ties between Israel and Cyprus go back to ancient times. The first Jews settled in Cyprus during the Hellenistic period and their presence was strong through the Roman period. During Ottoman rule Cyprus witnessed the influx of Sephardi Jews from Ottoman lands, who had emigrated en masse to the Ottoman territories after expulsion from Spain in 1492. A more modern encounter took place during the late 19th and early 20th century, when attempts were made to establish Jewish agricultural communities on the island. During and immediately after World War II, Cyprus became a transit point for many Jewish Holocaust survivors who were trying to reach Mandate Palestine which was administered by Great Britain before the State of Israel was established in 1948. Cyprus was then a British Crown Colony. During 1946-49, an estimated 53,000 Jews were detained by the British in camps on Cyprus, where they found consolation and solidarity by the people of Cyprus. Once the State of Israel was created, most of the refugees made their way back to their historic homeland. 2,000 babies were born on the island as they waited to enter Israel.
Israel and Cyprus established diplomatic relations immediately after 1960, the year of Cyprus’ independence. Cyprus is represented in Israel through its embassy in Tel-Aviv (established in 1994). Israel is represented in Cyprus through its embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus (established in 1961). As longstanding democracies in the eastern Mediterranean, Israel and Cyprus have a great deal in common. Their bilateral relations have entered a new era in recent years driven by shared economic interests and excellent neighbourly relations.
The discovery of natural gas reserves beneath the seabed between Cyprus and Israel as well as geopolitical concerns related to the threats against peace, prosperity and stability in our rapidly changing neighborhood have been the main impetus. During the last few years, an unprecedented number of reciprocal official visits have taken place including the state visits of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias in March 2011, of Israeli President Shimon Peres in November 2011 and of Benjamin Netanyahu, the first ever by an Israeli prime minister, in February 2012. A record number of bilateral agreements have been signed and are under implementation.
Both countries have made symbolic humanitarian gestures, further strengthening relations. Cyprus was the first country to send firefighting planes to aid Israel in putting out the Carmel forest fire in December 2010. Israel was able to return the favor in July 2011, when it sent generators to supply electricity to the island, after a massive explosion that disabled Cyprus’ main power plant.
Cooperation between Israel and Cyprus has greatly expanded in the past few years in a wide range of areas, from tourism to agriculture to science. An increasing number of Cypriot doctors are sent to Israeli medical centers to pursue specialization while Cypriot patients have been coming to Israel to receive medical care for many years. Commercial ties and bilateral trade have expanded, with Israeli businesspeople investing primarily in Cyprus’s tourism and real estate sectors, while also taking advantage of the island’s low corporate tax to open offices and list offshore companies on the island.