Offshore Gas - Opportunity or Threat? Opinion
As direct peace talks begin in the US between Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is in Cyprus for meetings that will most certainly focus on 30 billion dollars worth of offshore gas reserves.
Israel needs peace in the Eastern Mediterranean if it is to successfully exploit the gas reserves because it faces challenges from Lebanon and Turkey. But, it is technically at war with Lebanon and relations with Turkey have cooled from a former alliance to cold diplomatic shoulder status.
Turkey, which has said in the past that it will move to protect the interests of the Turkish-Cypriot community in any natural resources in Cyprus waters, is also still determined to extract an apology from Israel over the deaths of nine Turkish-origin activists on a ship carrying aid to the Gaza Strip. The country has made it a priority as it takes over the presidency of the UN Security Council between September 1st and 30th.
The situation is delicate, to say the least, and could end up either as an opportunity or a threat.
For Cyprus, revenue from the exploitation of gas reserves could bring much-needed money into the state coffers and the government is signalling that it is keen to go forward with Israel. This was clearly shown when Cyprus decided to ban aid ships to Gaza from docking at the island's government-controlled ports, a move which brought praise from Israel.
On the other hand, what of the prospect of war? It is not unusual for large, powerful countries like Turkey to go to war over natural resources, any glance at history would confirm that. But if Turkey decides to play the military card and try to prevent gas exploitation in the Eastern Mediterranean, it will directly confront another regional military power - Israel. And the consequences of that kind of battle could be devastating to international alliances like NATO, human lives and regional stability.
So there is good reason for the government to weigh the situation carefully and do its best to reach an agreement for reunification between the island's communities. Should there be a unified Cyprus, Turkey would have absolutely no excuse to interfere with exploitation of undersea gas reserves, some of which may lie within the island's territorial waters.