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CONTRIBUTOR > Cyprus at the crossroads

ROBERT ELLIS

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What the Arab geographer al-Muqaddasi noted a thousand years ago still holds true today: “The island of Qubrus is in the power of whichever nation is overlord in these seas.” However, there seems to be some disagreement as to who is overlord.
Turkey considers the eastern Mediterranean as “mare nostrum” and Turkey’s Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım has made it clear that any project in this region requires Turkey’s approval. Nevertheless, the Republic of Cyprus (ROC) has exercised its sovereign right to exploit its offshore natural resources and has agreed with Lebanon, Egypt and Israel to delimit their respective exclusive economic zones (EEZ).
Despite widespread international support for the ROC, Turkey has sent a research vessel into Cypriot territorial waters escorted by Turkish warships. In September Turkey also concluded a continental shelf delimitation agreement with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a political entity only recognized by Turkey.
The Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yıldız has also announced that the Turkish Petroleum Corporation is ready to start drilling for oil and natural gas in Famagusta in northern Cyprus.
In September an American company, Noble Energy, began drilling in Block 12 (the Aphrodite field) of Cyprus’ EEZ. Last month Noble Energy announced the block would yield between 3 and 9 trillion cubic feet of gas with a 60 percent probability of success. Sixteen trillion cubic feet have been discovered in the adjacent Israeli block (Leviathan).
According to the U.S. Geological Survey there are 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas in the Levant Basin between Cyprus and Israel. By comparison all the EU countries combined hold 86.2 trillion cubic feet of gas.
In geopolitical terms this is a real game changer, and as one EU diplomat put it, “the most importance change to the geopolitical significance of this part of the world since the Suez Canal.”
ROC has now announced a second round of licensing, which opens up for an interesting strategic perspective. Cyprus was off the U.S.’ radar screen until the discovery of natural gas. Not any longer. There are now signs of a strategic alliance between three of the major protagonists in the region: Greece, Cyprus and Israel.
Greece has confirmed its long-standing defense pact with Cyprus and in the past year has upgraded its relations with Israel. Last month an official visit to Cyprus by Israeli President Shimon Peres was concluded by the signing of bilateral agreements. The Cypriot defense minister has also indicated that defense cooperation and security agreements are in the offing.
Relations between the two former allies, Turkey and Israel, have been bedeviled by the Mavi Marmara incident last year. In 2007 Turkish and Israeli officials held initial talks on constructing a 460 km oil and gas pipeline from Ceyhan to Haifa. But now Yıldız has said Turkey will not allow Israel to export natural gas to Europe through Turkey.
There is another major player, Russia, which has also had a long-standing alliance with Cyprus and has ruled out any recognition of a Turkish state in northern Cyprus.
The economy of Greek Cyprus is underpinned by Russian investment and a recent loan of 2.5 billion euros might save Cyprus from the embarrassment of an EU bailout. Russia is one of Turkey’s major trading partners and supplies Turkey with natural gas through the Blue Stream project.
Turkey’s role as a regional energy hub would be threatened by an alliance between Cyprus and Israel, but the open question is what action Turkey can and will take. In view of the deadlock in reunification talks, menfaat (mutual benefit) might act as a greater incentive to reach a solution. Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.

December/07/2011

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Med Bukey

12/24/2011 4:37:55 PM

We will now see the emergence of a new power bloc; Cyprus, Israel, Greece with the support of the US, UK & even Canada, with a new entry to the EMPIRES OF OIL. The Geo-Strategic implications will radically change everything in the East Mediterranean.

Chris Green

12/11/2011 3:20:26 PM

By the way, Russia has not actually given this much vaunted loan yet: Private Russian money has left south Cyprus to such an extend only 50k Euro's can be withdrawn per transaction now! Little 'porky' must be a very worried man and events are looming

Chris Green

12/8/2011 6:21:42 PM

If Turkey has to 'understand' anything it is that Russia and the USA are the latest 'sharks' in the Med and of course they will court the porcine Christofias with loans and inducements. My earlier comments and long opined views remain as stated.

DORUS LIVIS

12/8/2011 2:53:56 PM

Turkey has to understand that it can not monopolize Eastern Meditteranean. Moreover everybody knows that in diplomacy there are no friendships but only common interests among certain states...

Baris

12/8/2011 1:19:03 PM

The best and the cheapest solution is for the gas to be transported to Europe via a pipeline through Tr. The advantages this would have for all parties may well be the catalyst required for Tr-IL to make up and Cyprus problem finally to be solved.

Chris Green

12/8/2011 12:48:07 PM

I am sure Yusuf would agree that if there is gas reserves as described, they are likely to be off the northern shores of Cyprus too in fact there was a 'find' as such in 1970. Of course, Turkey will protect her near and regional interests!

Chris Green

12/8/2011 12:20:37 PM

This article underlines precisely why the Turkey will both maintain and possibly strengthen the permanent TSK garrison in TRNC territory and may deploy warships to maintain a watching brief against the now clearly defined commercial adversaries.

Yusuf Kanlı

12/8/2011 10:57:32 AM

Dear Robert, check the quality as well as the quantity of gas "found" at block 12 and in the adjacent Israeli block .... "Menfaat" requires Israelis as well as Cypriots to reconsider their antagonist rhetoric regarding Turkey, and vice versa

dogan kemal ileri

12/8/2011 1:58:34 AM

Keep your friends close but your enemies closer goes the saying.The Israelis have been fairweather friends in the past but have shown their true colours with this unity of wills betwwe them and Greece and ROC.Now we know who the enemy are .
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