N. Cyprus-Turkey Maritime Border Deal 'Illegal'
Turkey and the political leadership of the unilaterally-declared 'TRNC' dispute the government's decision to go ahead with offshore gas drilling operations and urged President Christofias to postpone hydrocarbon exploration until after a solution to the Cyprus problem.
The new maritime border agreement is the first step in a series of measures Turkey said it would take if the government proceeds with offshore gas drilling operations which started earlier this week. Turkey is now expected to start exploring for undersea hydrocarbons in the area and has hired a Norwegian ship to start operations.
Ankara also threatened an arms build-up in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying that it would increase its naval presence, and rousing Greece, Israel, Russia and Cyprus to take a united defensive military position over the island's sovereign rights under the International Law of the Sea. Turkey has not signed this UN treaty, which sets out the conditions that each country can use to delimit its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Greece is set to send F16 fighter aircraft to Israel in mid-October for joint exercises with Israeli F-16 squadrons, says a report on Defencenet.gr. The combined force of the two airforces would create a 'steel vise' in the Eastern Mediterranean to act as a deterrent to any military threats from Turkey, said an analyst. Meanwhile, Ankara said it has sent more frigates to patrol the area off Cyprus' coast.
Escalating tensions have increased the potential for a military incident like a dogfight in the air or a clash at sea, with Turkey and Israel ready to challenge each other at any moment. Relations between the former allies have rapidly unravelled in the months since Israeli special forces killed nine Turkish aid activists at sea on their way to take supplies to the Gaza Strip in May 2010.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said that Israel's refusal to apologise over the killings - which happened in international waters - was casus belli and that he would send more Turkish navy ships to the seas off Israel, Lebanon and Gaza.
But these threats and other reports of possible military action have not stopped Noble Energy which has an exploratory license for Block 12 in Cyprus' exclusive economic zone that experts say could contain 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. According to energy minister Solon Kassinis, drilling is going according to plan and there should be results in two to three months.
If undersea gas is discovered, Noble Energy said that it could be delivered from Block 12 by 2014. The sector has been dubbed 'Aphrodite' and neighbors Israel's natural gas field Leviathan which is considered to be one of the Mediterranean's largest undersea gas reserves. The first well drilled on Leviathan alone contained 16 trillion cubic feet of gas.