Bipartisan work by two Florida Congressmen hopes to build ties with allies in the Eastern Mediterranean

By KEVIN DERBY Sunshine State News

Gus Bilirakis and Ted Deutch

Gus Bilirakis and Ted Deutch

Last week, two members of the Florida delegation looked to build a closer partnership with Israel, Greece and Cyprus while taking aim at Turkey. 

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., the chairman of the U.S. House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, teamed up with U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-RI, to bring out the “Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act.”

The bill would ban arms sales to Cyprus and  create the United States-Eastern Mediterranean Energy Center to “facilitate energy cooperation” between the countries; send $3 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Greece; send $2 million to Greece and another $2 million for Cyprus in International Military Education and Training (IMET) assistance; and “impede the transfer of F-35 aircraft to Turkey, as long as Turkey continues with plans to purchase the S-400 air defense system from the Russian Federation, a purchase that would be sanctionable under U.S. law; and require the administration to submit to Congress a strategy on enhanced security and energy cooperation with countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as reports on malign activities by Russia and other countries in the region.”

“As a cochair of the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance, I’ve been proud to promote in Congress the growing partnership between these eastern Mediterranean countries,” said Deutch. “The trilateral relationship between Greece, Cyprus, and Israel has been expanding in recent years to cover new energy pursuits, economic opportunities, and security cooperation. With this legislation, the United States will deepen our support for this regional partnership which furthers our own geopolitical interests.”

“The Greece-Cyprus-Israel partnership offers a new example of cooperation in an increasingly turbulent eastern Mediterranean region. The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act will enable the U.S. to support this developing trilateral relationship through energy and defense cooperation and further its potential. By strengthening this partnership, we can promote stability within the region and maximize the mutually beneficial benefits for all parties,” said Bilirakis.

Deutch and Bilirakis aren’t the only members of the Florida delegation championing the proposal. Back in April, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who sits on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, paired up with U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, to bring out the Senate version of the proposal. 

“The legislation would allow the U.S. to fully support the trilateral partnership of Israel, Greece, and Cyprus through energy and defense cooperation initiatives—including by lifting the embargo on arms transfers to the Republic of Cyprus,” Rubio’s office noted. “The legislation also seeks to update U.S. strategy in recognition of consequential changes in the eastern Mediterranean, including the recent discovery of large natural gas fields, and a deterioration of Turkey’s relationship with the United States and our regional partners.”

“This bipartisan legislation will continue to enhance our energy and security cooperation with our allies in the Eastern Mediterranean region,” Rubio said when the bill was unveiled. “By lifting the U.S. arms embargo on Cyprus and extending necessary Foreign Military Assistance to Greece, this legislation brings forth a comprehensive approach to the stability of key regional partners.”

“The United States has significant national security interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, bolstered by strong and expanding relationships with Greece, Israel and Cyprus. The cooperation in energy security among these countries in recent years has paved the way for cooperation on a broad regional security, economic, and energy agenda,” Menendez said when he introduced the proposal. “The time has come for the U.S. to deepen this cooperation and build on the constructive progress made by our allies to help ensure a secure Eastern Mediterranean. This legislation seeks to strengthen our bonds of friendship through joint efforts to promote peace, prosperity, and security for our nations.”