Balances in the Eastern Mediterranean are hanging by a thread

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While our politicians begin mapping out their speeches for the annual
Thessaloniki International Fair this coming weekend, on the other side of the Mediterranean
things are really heating up. As Cyprus
and Israel get set to begin
drilling for oil and natural gas, Turkey is also getting set in what
looks like might just turn out to be a very heated confrontation.

A direct threat was made by Turkish officials this past weekend. Turkish vice president and the
person responsible for European Affairs, Mr. Egemen Bagis said that Turkey will use all means to stop the Cypriot Republic from searching to detect
natural gas resources.
Approximately
one month before the scheduled search start by the American company Noble
Energy in Cyprus’ exclusive
economic zone, Bagis reiterated his claim that it is illegal for Cyprus to do
anything concerning researching potential drilling sites in waters that do not
belong to the country.

Noble Energy has a concession to look for hydrocarbons in an offshore
field in Cyprus` EEZ,
south-east of Cyprus,
known as Block 12.

Speaking to
the Turkish newspaper “Zaman”, the vice president directly referred to the
S-300 Russian missile crisis. Turkey
had threatened that if the Russian anti-missile system was installed in Cyprus, “Turkey
would react without a limit” and finally managed to transfer the S-300
counter-missile system to Crete.
Today,
though, things are different. The US and Russia have publicly stood in favour
of the Cypriot government’s attempts to exploit natural resources found in the
Cyprus EEZ. Nevertheless, the Turkish government persists in threatening behaviours,
as a diplomat interviewed by protothema.gr stated. “It is
illegal to research waters that do not belong to them. Turkey will
make use of all its rights according to international law and act accordingly. They
know of the seriousness that Turkey
possesses”, Bagis warned in a very inelegant manner.
To the
observation put forth by the “Zaman”’ editor about searches carried out in the
past, when Turkish warships had been dispatched to the region, the Vice
president of Turkey
replied: “That’s why we built our army and trained our soldiers”.
Ankara
seems to have adopted a certain rhetoric which inaugurates a period of tension.
The Turkish government is threatening to use even military force in order to
cancel Cyprus’ decision to start
drilling for natural gas and as noted above Bagis, even said that Ankara is ready to dispatch its navy so as to block Cyprus’ plans, statements which Athens characterized as threatening.
At the
moment, this is a very unsatisfactory development which is raising concern because
of the latest breach in Turkish-Israeli relations, as all drills will be
co-funded by American and Israeli companies.
Another thing
that has soured Turkey is
the decision by Greek officials to reinforce their military cooperation with Israel.
For now, Washington and Moscow are
vowing to stay on Cyprus’
side, being fully supportive of the island government’s decisions to move
forward with the drillings, while at the same time nobody can say if Turkey wishes
to become totally autonomous and ignore recommendations coming from the
American and Russian sides.
According to
an article in the Sunday edition of the “Proto Thema” newspaper, a Turkish boat
is already in the area between the Greek islands of Kos and Rhodes,
looking for natural gas, but for the moment it is sailing inside Turkish
territorial waters.
What is
interesting to watch for is whether or not Turkey will try to create a
diversion in order to postpone, or even attempt to suspend the planned drilling.
Because of
this, Greek defence officials have sounded a red alert. The Greek ministry of
Foreign Affairs has issued a statement saying that the neighbouring country is
behaving in an alarming manner, which could lead to the destabilization of the eastern
part of the Mediterranean.
In Cyprus,
officials are closely following developments, says Minister of Defence Demetris
Eliades. `The government” he said on Monday, “acting in concert with Athens, is monitoring closely
developments and takes all necessary actions on all levels as appropriate,”
Eliades was quoted by the state news service as saying.
In Greece, serious concern prevails in military
circles of the Greek Ministry of National Defense, and the upcoming Turkish aeronautical
exercises, due to take place in the same period in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean are closely being montiroed.  In such a context, Chief of Defence, General
Ioannis Giagkos visited the Marines and the 111 Combat Wing in Nea Anchialos AB
while the Chief of the Hellenic Army General Staff General Fragkoulis visited several
units at Rhodes, to brief personnel on operational matters, and give directions
and instructions to Commanders and Units, a report in the newspaper Dimokratia
said. The newspaper also makes a point that the Greek Armed Forces are prepared
to address any “hot incident” caused by Turkey at any given moment.
 Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras said that “threatening statements from Mr. Bagis and other developments in recent days raise serious concerns as to the impact of Turkey’s conduct on the stability of the Eastern Mediterranean region at a very critical and sensitive time: with the events in Syria and Libya and the ongoing efforts to re-launch the peace process on the Palestinian issue. This conduct is opposed to the policy Turkey has declared: that of zero problems with its neighbours. We call on the Turkish government to conduct itself with greater responsibility and respect for international law, which it has been invoking frequently of late. The Greek Foreign Ministry has taken a stance on the issue of the self-evident right of the Republic of Cyprus to exploit is natural wealth, in accordance with international law. No further comment – particularly on Mr. Bagis’ statements – is necessary.”
(Combined reports)
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