Israel, Greek Cyprus plan to station Israeli base on island: Eroğlu
NICOSIA - Hürriyet Daily News
Derviş Eroğlu. Photo by kktcb.org
Turkish Cyprus’ leader has said he believes that southern Cyprus and Israel have begun negotiations over an Israeli military base in the southern part of the island despite the fact that both sides deny reports on the issue.
"They are hiding this. I would not get surprised if [Greek Cyprus] allows Israelis to have a military base," Turkish Cypriot President Derviş Eroğlu told a group of journalists visiting him in his presidential palace today. "I think southern Cyprus wants to use this as a tool in the negotiations against us."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited southern Cyprus last week to deepen Tel Aviv’s cooperation with the Mediterranean island, which recently launched new oil and natural gas drilling, prompting Turkish and Turkish Cypriot anger.
Turkey, whose ties with Israel are strained due to the Mavi Marmara incident, has warned southern Cyprus and any foreign companies that are interested in investing in the drilling program, saying it also has economic interests in the Mediterranean and that any such project should be conducted after a comprehensive settlement has been reached between Turkish and Greek Cypriots.
"Netanyahu came to the island because they have mutual interests," Eroğlu said, adding that Greek Cyprus was openly using the tension between Turkey and Israel for its own advantage in the ongoing peace talks.
But there is more than that, said Eroğlu. "Netanyahu wanted to land his official plane at the military airport in Paphos [Greek Cyprus] but he could not do so due to the opposition's reaction. He obviously wanted to give a message by landing at a military base."
Both Greek Cyprus and Israel denied reports that Tel Aviv was seeking to establish a military base on the island. When asked, Israeli sources said Israeli state aircraft could use Greek Cypriot and Greek airspace in order to participate in military exercises in various European countries but added that they would not need a base in Cyprus.
Newspaper reports, however, said the possible base would be designed to protect Greek Cypriot oil and natural gas exploration in the Mediterranean from a potential Turkish attack.
Israel appears set to become one of the most prominent customers of a potential Greek Cypriot oil and natural gas discovery.
Current developments make a deal more difficult
Having returned from New York where he participated in intensive negotiations with Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias under the auspices of U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, Eroğlu said the current developments in the region made the possibility of an agreement more difficult.
"The rise of the island's strategic importance, the developments concerning the Arab Spring, the exploration for natural gas and oil in the Mediterranean, the worsening ties between Turkey and Israel are among the developments that make the picture more difficult for us to reach an agreement with Greek Cyprus," Eroğlu said.
Ban’s special representative, Alexander Downer, will write a report at the end of March to make an assessment on the improvement of talks between the two sides. If the report is positive, then Ban will consult the two sides over holding an international conference in late April or early May.
July 1 deadline
"There will be no meaning for us to continue negotiations after July 1," Eroğlu said, referring to the date when Greek Cyprus will assume the term presidency of the European Union. "On that day, I will address my nation that we should look after our own state."
Given the fact that there will be presidential elections in Greek Cyprus in early 2013, Eroğlu said, "If we cannot reach a settlement before July 1, then it will be a miracle to find it later." He also said this was Ban’s view.