Turkey’s state-run oil company is close to inking a deal for both onshore and offshore exploration with Dutch energy giant Shell, according to Hürriyet newspaper citing Turkey’s energy Minister Taner Yıldız.
"Turkish Petroleum Corporation and Shell will undersign a joint operation agreement on Nov. 23 that covers exploration in the maritime areas of Antalya. This will be an important opening in the Mediterranean. We are moving our strategic weight from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea,” Yıldız said during a phone interview, according to the newspaper.
The waters between Turkey and Cyprus have been controlled by the Turkish military ever since its invasion in 1974 and island's government said that it is seriously considering its legal and political options in case Turkey proceeds with more escalations, whether they concern the TRNC or foreign companies. The government is monitoring the situation very carefully, said Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoulis. Meanwhile, as a sign of the seriousness of the situation, new Defence Minister Demetris Avraamopoulos came over from Greece for talks with the government.
Turkey has been conducting illegal seismic research for carbohydrates in Cyprus waters, well inside Cyprus’s EEZ in the Eastern Mediterranean, using Koka Piri Reis, an old broken-down vessel, not paying much attention to Cyprus’s objections.
USA, Great Britain, Russia, France and other countries issued statements backing Cyprus' sovereignty and some of them have increased their naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, with frigates and submarines, after Turkey had made several veiled threats over the issue, saying it will take 'appropriate action'.
Hürriyet’s goes on to state that “The move comes in the wake of disputes between Greek Cyprus and Turkey over exploration rights on seas surrounding the divided island”.
It’s not clear, however that Shell intents to pick up the exploration in Cyprus’s EEZ. If it does tension in the Mediterranean will escalate dangerously.
"We have no right to say we don't want you here," said the spokeswoman in comments to CyprusNewsReport.com, when Turkey sent Piri Reis to the Eastern Mediterranean for the first time in September,. But it would be a different story if Turkey actually goes ahead with exploration activities without government permission, she said:
"If they start exploring then there will be a different approach."
Analysts, at the time, had interpreted Turkey's move as an attempt to provoke a military incident to bolster its claims over Cyprus sovereign waters.
Ankara has repeatedly 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 EEZ.
Greece has send F16 fighter aircrafts to Israel earlier this month for joint exercises with Israeli F-16 squadrons, The combined force of the two air forces 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 continues to increase it’s naval presence in the region and it’s violations of Cyprus’ airspace with F-16 fighters. In the meantime, the Greek Defence Ministry issued a statement yesterday saying that a formation of two Turkish RF-4 fighters violated the Greek air space. “They entered the Athens FIR at 15:30, conducted over flights to Kastelorizo at 1,000 feet and left the Athens FIR at 15:31”.
Escalating tensions have increased the potential for a military incident like a dogfight in the air or a clash at sea, with regional powers 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 US energy company Noble Energy and its Israeli partner DELEK which have an exploratory license for Block 12 in Cyprus' exclusive economic zone that Noble Energy says could contain 3 to 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
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