By YAAKOV KATZ 02/07/2012
PM could make request during Cyprus visit; Cypriot media says talks at "exploratory stage" regarding use of Paphos base.
Israel will ask Cyprus to station Israel Air Force fighter jets at a military facility on the island, Cyprus media reported Tuesday.
According to the reports, Israel will make the request during Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Cyprus later this month.
It is unclear if the request will be to station a permanent presence on the island or to establish a base that can provide logistical support for the IAF during operations in the region.
It is possible that Israel is seeking to establish a base in Cyprus to be able to more effectively protect the growing number of gas fields it is discovering in the Mediterranean Sea.
According to the report in the Famagusta Gazette, the talks are currently at an “exploratory stage” regarding the possibility of using the Andrea Paendreou airbase in Paphos, in southwestern Cyprus. The base reportedly used to host Greek F-16s.
Neither the Cypriot Embassy in Tel Aviv nor the Prime Minister’s Office would confirm the reports.
One diplomatic official, saying the reports did not “sound right,” suggested what might be discussed during Netanyahu’s visit is a request to conduct air maneuvers over Cyprus, similar to those conducted over other countries in the region, such as Greece and Romania.
Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Cyprus February 16.
Last month, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his Cypriot counterpart Demetris Eliades signed two agreements aimed at bolstering defense cooperation between the countries. The agreements were signed during Eliades’s visit to Tel Aviv. The possibility of establishing the base in Cyprus, reportedly came up during their discussions.
Israeli-Cypriot ties have improved significantly over the last three years. The Cypriot Air Force sent fire extinguishing planes to Israel to help put out the Carmel Forest fire last year, and in 2009 Cyprus stopped a cargo ship suspected of carrying Iranian arms.
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