Friday, 16 September 2011

Turkey, Israel, and Greece weigh in on Cyprus drilling plans

The rapidly shifting politics of the eastern Mediterranean have become even more complex in recent days, as Turkey has warned Cyprus to avoid exploratory drilling off the coast - work which would be undertaken with Israel, fast becoming Turkey’s regional rival.

Greek-speaking Cyprus is pledging to press ahead with plans to begin exploring its offshore resources, despite a lack of agreement on the exact maritime boundary with Turkish-speaking Northern Cyprus, which is only recognised by Turkey. EU member Cyprus has turned to Israel for support: the two countries demarcated their maritime boundary in December 2010, and both have contracted Noble Energy to explore the offshore deposits along their mutual border.

Turkey has responded angrily, warning against “adventurist policies” by Cyprus and threatening to agree a maritime border with Turkish Cyprus, which would enable them to pursue oil and gas exploration but would also stoke tensions with other regional players. Speaking on 8th September, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Turkey, "as a guarantor of the Turkish republic of north Cyprus, has taken steps in the area, and it will be decisive and holding fast to the right to monitor international waters in the east Mediterranean”.
Greece has also weighed in to back Cyprus – it is also likely to have been the driving force behind an EU statement on 9th September that warned Turkey to refrain from threats.
Turkey has no relations with Cyprus, and once-warm ties with Israel have plummeted to a new low, with Ankara repeatedly threatening to deploy warships into the eastern Mediterranean. Along with an increasingly tense dispute between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime boundary (and the gas fields in the border area), the situation in the eastern Mediterranean is becoming increasingly fraught and tangled. Indeed, rumours have circled that Cyprus is planning to keep its military on alert during offshore drilling.
The next steps are not clear. Turkey’s recent bullish behaviour is mainly directed at Israel, but the connection between Cyprus and Israel over developing gas fields is widening the dispute significantly. Ankara’s sudden insistence on joint exploration with Turkish Cyprus seems partly a rhetorical move: to date, Turkey has shown little passion for prospecting in the area.

Given Ankara’s deteriorating relationship with Tel Aviv, however, and Erdoğan’s fiery assertiveness in the foreign arena, it is plausible that Turkey will actively work to bar Cyprus from drilling in the Mediterranean and start working with the Turkish Cypriots to start exploring energy resources offshore. This could set the stage for an increasingly tense and complex regional situation.

Sources: Reuters, Hürriyet, Bloomberg

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