Turkey was enraged when Greek Cyprus moved to start drilling for natural gas in the so-called “Block 12” or the “Aphrodite” area off the island, just above the Leviathan field off the north coast of Israel that contains at least 16 Tcf of recoverable gas. That amount would make the field one of the largest offshore natural gas fields ever.
Interestingly enough, the Israeli gas discovery at Leviathan was made last year by the same Noble Energy which is now exploring for gas in the “Aphrodite” area and angering the Turks. That is, Noble Energy was not at all an stranger to gas and oil exploration in the southern Mediterranean basin. Such a giant discovery of gas at Leviathan was perhaps the trigger for accelerated Greek Cypriot greed for gas as the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the eastern Mediterranean may hold 200 Tcf of ultimately recoverable natural gas.
The Greek Cypriot gas exploration off the southern coast of the island could, of course, have been described as an exercise in sovereignty if it were not known that sovereignty on the island belongs to the two peoples of the island under 1960 agreements. Thus, either neither of them or both of them separately can exercise sovereignty all through the land and sea of the island. That is why an issue in the cards as early as 1990s came to the forefront in the wake of the Greek Cypriot unilateral action in “Block 12” and why the Turkish Cypriot side not only signed an accord with Turkey “partially” delineating its territorial waters between itself and Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, but dispatched the K. Piri Reis research ship to conduct seismic studies in “Block G” – which “coincidentally” was almost the exact area described in the Greek Cypriot “Block 12.”
This “Who will spit further?” race in the Mediterranean between the two perennial rivals of Cyprus, in the mean time, has adversely affected the Cyprus talks process as well as Greek Cypriots not only demonstrated a disinterest in finding a resolution to the Cyprus problem, but also failed to conform whatsoever with the spirit of the settlement talks where such sovereign rights were agreed in principle to be left to the future federal government. To minimize the impacts of the “gas greed” ahead of the latest trilateral summit with the U.N. chief and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias “generously” ultimately agreed that if gas was to be found, the share of Turkish Cypriots would be 20 percent; American friends, however, have suggested that Turkish Cypriots should be given a full 50 percent share in any find off the island.
As gassy as it is, the problem is not at all just a matter of what should be the share of the Turkish Cypriots. As explained above, it is primarily an exercise of sovereignty and none of the two peoples of the island can exercise sovereignty unilaterally without the consent of the other. These efforts are also designed at the same time to cut Turkey off from the entire Mediterranean or turn the Mediterranean into a Greek-Greek Cypriot lake by giving Turkey a negligible exclusive economic zone while giving Cyprus and the Aegean islands of Greece full exclusive economic zone rights denied from Turkey.
Now, as Greek Cypriots appear to be minutes away from gas finds in the Aphrodite region, perhaps it is high time for Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to continue the “partial” delineation of the territorial waters agreement by drawing a line off the western-tip of the Cyprus, down the 32-16-18 meridian, and register it with the U.N. Such a line would spoil the Greek Cypriot plans.