UPDATE - Turkish Warships Harass Israeli Freighters
Turkish warships have been coming close to Israeli freighters in the waters off Cyprus and ordering them to change course, says a report in Israeli military analysis website Debka.com citing military sources.
Since September 29th, the warships approach the freighters so closely they can establish wireless communiction and warn them that they are in contravention of international law. Israeli F15 planes are circling near the sites of the incidents and observing, says the report.
There is also a Turkish corvette in Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that is escorting Turkish seismic research ship K. Piri Reis. The ship is blatantly defying the island's sovereign right to explore for oil and gas in its EEZ because it does not have permission from the Republic of Cyprus, the only internationally-recognised government on the island.
US energy company Noble Energy - which has a contract with the government - started drilling for offshore gas in Block 12 of Cyprus' EEZ on September 19th. Block 12 is located around 160km south of the island, next to Israel's undersea gas field Leviathan.
A few days afterwards, on September 21st, Turkey signed an agreement to explore for undersea hydrocarbons with the Turkish-Cypriot breakaway state 'TRNC', a move promptly branded as illegal by the Republic of Cyprus. Only Turkey recognises the 'TRNC', which was unilaterally declared by the Turkish-Cypriot political leadership in 1983.
It was on September 26th that Turkey dispatched its seismic research ship K. Piri Reis to Cyprus' EEZ, where it has been conducting seismic activities in Blocks 8-12 ever since.
The situation is complicated by unravelling relations between former allies Turkey and Israel. Israel's refusal to apologise over the deaths of nine Turkish nationals in May 2010 has infuriated Turkey's political leadership. The Turkish nationals were killed by Israeli special forces in May 2010 as they were on their way to challenging Israel's sea blockade of the Gaza Strip. The activists were in international waters when they were boarded in an ultimately deadly operation subsequently condemned by the UN and EU.
At the same time as Cyprus started offshore drilling operations in cooperation with Noble Energy and its Israeli partner DELEK in September 2011, Turkey suspended military and commercial relations with Israel over its refusal to apologise. Turkey maintains that Cyprus' maritime border agreement with Israel is 'null and void' on the basis that the Republic of Cyprus does not represent the Turkish-Cypriot community.
Analysts say that escalating tensions in the region have significantly increased the possibility of a major military incident.