Tensions rising in the east Mediterranean

Posted on Monday, 19th September 2011 @ 03:16 AM by Text Size A | A | A

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GREECE said this week that it expects Turkey to abide by international law regarding Cyprus’ intention to drill for gas off its coast by the end of the month.

“Turkey needs to acknowledge the reality, which is set out by international law, and act with clear-headedness and not contribute further to the creation of tension, “ said Greek foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras on September 15.

He added that Cyprus, in agreement with its neighbours, has delineated its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with Israel, stressing that Cyprus will go agead with the exploration and exploitation of its natural resources.  “This cannot be disputed by anyone, and is reflected in the statements of all the international factors that have interest in the matter”.

US-based energy company Nobel Energy plans to commence explorations at the end of the month for useable gas in Cyprus’ EEZ- specifically Block 12 – an area located southeast of the island.  According to estimates, there are 483 billion cubic metres of useable gas within Cypriot territorial waters.

Ankara has strongly contested any move by Nicosia to extract gas. Turkey does not formally recognise the island republic – divided between the breakaway Turkish-occupied north and the internationally recognised south since 1974 as a consequence of a Turkish military invasion.

Matters are further complicated by the fact that Nicosia is set to assume the rotating EU presidency in July 2012 for six months. Turkey has repeatedly threatened that its relations with the EU will be “completely frozen” unless there is a solution to the decades-old problem before Cyprus assumes the presidency. United Nations-sponsored talks between Cyprus and the leaders of the breakaway north have so far made little progress.

The Cypriot conundrum has been further intensified since the rapid decline in Israeli-Turkish relations with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatening to send warships into the east Mediterranean.

In response, Cyprus government Spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said on September 14 that “Turkey must make a formal commitment to the EU that it will end its provocations towards the Republic of Cyprus and stop obstructing Cypriot efforts in the field of energy”.

Meanwhile, on September 15, officials from Turkish-occupied Cyprus arrived in Ankara to hold talks on what action would be taken if Cyprus proceeds with its natural gas exploration in Block 12.

Turkey has gone on the diplomatic offensive since a United Nations report was released on September 2 which concluded that Israeli commandos were within international law when they boarded the Gaza aide flotilla on 31 May 2010 in which there were nine Turkish fatalities. The report was supposed to fix already rocky Ankara-Tel Aviv relations but in practice had the opposite effect as it reported that Israel had not acted illegally but had instead showed “excessive force”.

Turkey rejected the report’s findings and Israel’s refusal to apologise for the deaths resulted in Ankara’s expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and a deepening of geopolitical rivalries in the east Mediterranean basin.

Shortly after the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, Operation Barbarossa: Aegean Shield was implemented which aims to create a Turkish naval presence in the east Mediterranean. Erdogan said that “our (Turkish) ships will display themselves more often in these waters”.


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