Turkish warships who scared an Italian energy research ship away from Cyprus may have to contend with ships from the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet stepping up operations in the Mediterranean as American company ExxonMobil is due to drill off the island.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who recently went to Turkey to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is the former CEO of ExxonMobil which, along with France’s Total and Italy’s Eni, was licensed to look for energy off the island.
Erdogan, who doesn’t recognize Cyprus and bars its ships and planes at the same time he wants to the join the European Union – to which the legitimate government on Cyprus belongs – has stepped up provocations and sent the warships to prevent the foreign companies from drilling.
He said he wants a share of any potential oil and gas discoveries to be shared with Turkish-Cypriots and has become more belligerent in the wake of collapsed reunifications talks that fell apart in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana after he refused to remove an army and wanted the right to militarily intervene.
The Iwo Jima amphibious ready group, including three amphibious ships and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit comprising 2,500 U.S. Marines, entered Sixth Fleet operations, which are based in Naples, Italy, on Feb. 21, the U.S. Navy said in a statement, Ahval, an independent news site in Turkey, which tries to regulate the media, reported.
The U.S. Navy has five ships, including one command and control ship and four Arleigh Burke Class destroyers, permanently deployed in the Mediterranean. Two ExxonMobil ships were due to arrive March 5 in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – which Turkey also claims and where it has staked its interest and warships.
The USS Iwo Jima amphibious assault ship carries a mix of Cobra attack helicopters and up to eight Harriers for close air support, as well as helicopters and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for personnel transfer.