Netanyahu: Iran a 'formidable' danger to Europe
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Iran posed a "formidable" threat to Europe, accusing its proxy Hezbollah of operating cells across the continent. Just last month, a member of the Lebanese Shiite militant group was jailed in Cyprus for plotting attacks on Israeli targets on the Mediterranean island.
Netanyahu, on an official visit to Nicosia, said "Iran and Hezbollah organise a terrorist network that covers over 30 countries on five continents, including just about every country in Europe." Iran and leading world powers signed a deal this month on Tehran's controversial nuclear programme, an accord the Israeli leader criticised as a "stunning, historic mistake".
Netanyahu said Israel and Cyprus were faced with the dual dangers of Iran and the extremist attacks perpetrated by the Islamic State group, which controls large parts of Iraq and Syria.
"ISIS obviously endangers European societies, Western societies, African societies, the whole world," the premier said, using an alternative acronym for IS. "These are two formidable dangers. They are expressed in many weapons, in many attacks, but the most prevalent one that concerns Cyprus and Europe is of course the terrorism that emanates from these areas."
Last month, a Cypriot court jailed a Lebanese-Canadian man for six years after he pleaded guilty to terror charges linked to 8.2 tonnes of potential bomb-making material found in his home. Authorities said the man was a member of the military wing of Hezbollah and had helped the group plan "terrorist attacks" on "Israeli interests in Cyprus".
Cyprus is not known for its militant activity despite its proximity to the Middle East. But in 2013, a Cypriot court sentenced a Lebanon-born Swedish man who admitted he was a Hezbollah member, to four years in jail after he was found guilty of targeting Israelis on the island. A botched bomb attack on the Israeli embassy in 1988 claimed the lives of three people.
Israel has repeatedly criticised the Iran nuclear deal and insists it is not bound to respect Tehran's accord with the West. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said he and Netanyahu had discussed the accord, adding that Cyprus expressed "hope that this deal will help generate stability... and assist in addressing the security concerns of the State of Israel".
Tuesday's talks also focussed on security, defence and the exploration of oil and gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, according to Anastasiades. The Aphrodite field, discovered off Cyprus' southeast coast in 2011, is estimated to contain between 3.6 trillion and 6 trillion cubic feet (102 billion-170 billion cubic metres) of gas. Israel has found large reserves off its own shoreline and the two countries are looking to cooperate on energy issues such as exporting Israeli nature gas.
"We think that by cooperating with each other we can take [the natural gas] out more easily and market it better to the betterment of both our societies," Netanyahu said.