Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos
Greek Defense Minister Panos KammenosReuters

Greece is planning joint military exercises with Israel, Cyprus and Egypt, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said Wednesday, according to AFP.

The decision comes amid continuing tensions between Cyprus and Turkey over oil exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

Kammenos, visiting close ally Cyprus, said the two countries, along with Israel and "possibly" Egypt would begin joint exercises within the coming months aimed at improving regional security.

Cyprus has suspended UN-led peace talks with Turkey, which invaded the island in 1974 and still occupies its northern third, saying Ankara persists in trying to hamper the country's energy search.

Nicosia has licensed exploratory drilling in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and is unhappy that Ankara is determined to search for oil and gas in the same area.

Kammenos criticized Turkey's sending of a survey ship to the waters where the drilling is taking place as a "clear provocation".

"We want peace," Kammenos told reporters during an official visit, "but we are also ready to respond to any attempt against the national sovereignty or territorial integrity of the broader defense area of Greece and Cyprus, if necessary."

Kammenos said Cyprus and Greece, which he called "pillars of stability and security," would upgrade cooperation in the light of the island's energy search within its exclusive economic zone.

At the same time, Athens would proceed with delineating its offshore boundaries for its own exploration.

Kammenos said cooperation "essentially extends the responsibility of providing security and defense areas by defining the EEZ, which Cyprus has already done and very soon the Greek Republic will do as well".

He said regional security also meant closer ties with Israel, another energy player.

"Defense planning should take into account friends and allies which seek defense cooperation in the region. And I clearly I mean eastward toward Israel."

Israel and Greece have enjoyed close relations and have held joint military drills in the past.

Kammenos’s announcement comes after Greece’s new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, last week sought to assure the Israeli ambassador to Athens that Greek-Israeli relations will not change following his election.

Tsipras met with the Ambassador, Irit Ben-Abba, and made clear to her that his government is determined to combat anti-Semitism in Greece and that it will continue to prosecute the leaders of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.

The meeting came amid concerns among Greek Jews that the election of Tsipras could jeopardize the relationship between Israel and Greece. The concerns are around the fact that two members of Tsipras’s Syriza party had been aboard the Mavi Marmara flotilla which attempted to break the "siege on Gaza" in 2010.

As well, Kammenos himself has been accused of anti-Semitism after he alleged in December that Jews enjoyed preferential tax treatment in Greece.

Cyprus and Israel have gotten closer in recent years as well, as Israel has made an effort to tighten its ties with both Cyprus and Greece. These efforts intensified following the tensions in relations between the Jewish state and Turkey.