Cyprus-Israel Military Alliance Strengthens Amid Turkey Threats
As the alliance between Turkey and Israel ebbs rapidly over a row to do with the deaths of nine Turkish activists at the hands of Israeli special forces last year, a new age of military cooperation is on the rise between Cyprus and Israel.
Yesterday, September 7th, Defence Minister Demetris Eliades met with Israeli Ambassador Michael Harari and discussed strengthening bilateral military cooperation. On the same day, Turkey announced its decision to suspend military and commercial agreements with Israel.
Tensions have been rising steadily in the Eastern Mediterranean over the issue of offshore gas and oil drilling, adding strain on the region's uneasy peace. Last month, Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoulli visited Israel to ask for its support on offshore oil and gas drilling in its territorial waters. US company Noble Energy is due to start exploring for gas reserves in Cyprus' Block 12 at the beginning of October.
In response, Turkey has threatened to boost its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, claiming that Cyprus' agreement on maritime borders with Israel is null-and-void, and asserting the right to 'freedom of navigation.'
Turkey's political leadership is now on a diplomatic offensive to boost relations with Russia, Egypt and Gaza. Turkish President Abdullah Gul visits Russia for a tete-a-tete with Medvedev, and Prime Minister Erdogan is to travel to Egypt, one of Israel's key allies in the region.
Greece and Russia have taken up defensive positions in response to Turkey's aggression over Cyprus' natural resources. Both countries recently made statements in support of Cyprus' sovereign right to its offshore reserves, and said they will defend this right based on the International Law of the Sea.
The government's right to offshore drilling has in turn been challenged by the Turkish-Cypriot political leadership which claims equal rights to the island's natural resources. In comments reported by the Turkish-Cypriot media, former Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat called President Demetris Christofias 'insanely brave' to continue with drilling in the face of Turkey's threats.
As each camp plays its military and diplomatic cards, Cyprus appears confident of US-Israel support, and some analysts say that Turkey is bluffing. It all adds up to Noble Energy's drilling date being a defining moment in Cyprus' history. Events in the next three weeks and developments in the Cyprus talks will decide whether the island is reunified in peaceful cooperation over natural resources, or whether tensions increase to the point of military action between Turkey, Israel and Cyprus.
(Photo: official photo of Foreign Minister Demetris Eliades (left) and Israeli Ambassador Michael Harari.)