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Politics

Israel Rejects Turkey Maritime Deal That Would Isolate Cyprus

December 7, 2020

NICOSIA — In a plan that would effectively barricade Cyprus from exploring for energy in the seas, Turkey has proposed a maritime deal with Israel – which is already working with Cyprus and was said to have rejected the idea out of hand.

After years of diplomatic tension, Turkey reached out to Israel, said the national daily Hebrew paper Israel Hayom, with retired Rear Adm. Cihat Yayci, a close confidant of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, making the offer.

That would be for Israel and Turkey to share Exclusive Economic Ζοnes (EEZs) in the East Mediterranean cutting through Cypriot waters where foreign energy companies are licensed to drill, and where Turkish ships are doing so too.|

The Turkish proposal, the paper said, was to appear first Dec. 7 in the Israeli academic journal Turkeyscope—published by the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Turkey in 2019 signed a maritime deal with Libya, unrecognized by any other country, dividing the seas between them and Turkey claiming waters around Greek islands, including Kastellorizo where it had an energy ship working previously.

Yayci, who designed Turkey's Blue Homeland Doctrine claiming Greek waters and islands, wants to cut out Cyprus, which Turkey doesn't recognize although the legitimate government of Cyprus is a member of the European Union that Turkey has been trying to join since 2005.

The EU already has soft sanctions on Turkey for its drilling off Cyprus and was due to decide in a meeting Dec. 10-11 whether to also impose penalties for Turkey's provocations around Greek islands and in the Aegean.

The deal with Israel essentially expands Turkey's claims to the Aegean and East Mediterranean that were part of the Libya deal and would further cut off Greece from Cyprus through the seas.

A senior Israeli official not named told the paper that while improving relations with Turkey was important that it wouldn't come at the expense of Cyprus and that the plan was not acceptable.

“Cyprus is an ally of Israel and the maritime border between the countries is recognized by the United Nations and European Union,” the official explained.

Yayci suggested transferring four areas off Cyprus where companies are drilling to Israel, although one – Block 12 – is where the Israel company Delek is already operating, but with the US companies Shell and Noble Energy.

The gas field is estimated to contain between 7-10 billion cubic meters of gas on the Israeli side and about 100 billion cubic meters on the Cypriot side and worth some $9 billion.

The maritime border between Israel and Cyprus in the area of the Yishai-Aphrodite reservoir is still under dispute, despite all the other agreements the countries have signed. 

Also of potential benefit to Israel, based on Yayci’s proposal, is connecting Israel’s intended gas pipeline to Europe to the already existing Turkish pipeline. According to Yayci, this option would be “significantly more practicable and  Israeli agreement to the Turkish proposal would represent recognition of Turkey’s position on the EEZ near the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kastellorizo.

Turkeyscope Editor Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak said that proposal should be considered, however, to improve Israel's relations with Turkey even though it would isolate Cyprus from the waters around the island, where Turkey has occupied the northern third since an unlawful 1974 invasion.

“For the two countries to upgrade relations to the point of real normalization, trust-building measures must be put in place, which before all else requires the return of ambassadors and consuls,” he said of Turkey and Israel.

But he said that Turkey must end its relationship with Hamas, the Palestinian nationalist group that Israel considers terrorists. “If Erdoğan does this, it’s reasonably safe to believe Jerusalem will strive to find ways to make the relationship prosper again, as has happened in the past,” he said.

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