Cyprus went drilling for gas in September, partnered up with the US firm Noble Energy, from Texas. Nicosia has high hopes for its exclusive economic zone, though that exclusivity is open to question.
Last year’s new find in the Cyprus-Israel-Lebanon triangle piqued Leviathan appetites all around, including the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Ankara, which is the only capital which recognises the North. It is not just about possibly striking it rich but about politics.
Turkey was furious when prospecting went ahead in September. It sent an exploration vessel of its own to the prospect zone, and warned its navy and air force would keep constant watch. Ankara’s anger is a sign of relations with Israel that are scraping the bottom of the barrel.
The oil and gas dispute grew out of a Cyprus-Israel deal struck last year in December. They agreed lines on exclusive economic zones.
But Turkey argues that the Cyprus government does not have a right to drill, for as long as the island remains divided into a Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north — where troops controlled by Ankara have been stationed since the 1974 Greek-backed coup.
The Turks insist the north must share in the spoils, and that would require a comprehensive political reunification solution for the island.
The offshore gas finds — among the world’s largest in ten years — add a rich new dimension to Cyprus peace efforts.
Ankara and Israel’s ties (which were fine for decades) have never been worse, after Israel refused to apologise for a deadly raid last year on a Turkish aid flotilla.
Now gas and oil have come between them.
Turkey has also warned it will freeze relations with the EU when Cyprus’s turn holding the rotating presidency of the bloc rolls round in the second half of next year, unless this is fixed.
Prime Minister Erdogan said: “We absolutely don’t recognise Southern Cyprus, and we will never sit at the table with them if they assume the EU presidency.”
In any case, the EU membership process remains suspended for Turkey.
President Gul poured scorn on Cyprus, warning Europe against allowing “half a country” to lead a “miserable union”.