Israel could play a pivotal role in alleviating the tension brewing between
Turkey and Cyprus over eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbons by entering as a
“silent broker” in a special commission that would negotiate natural gas revenue
sharing, a Turkish energy expert told The Jerusalem Post on
Although Cyprus is a European Union member state recognized by
the international community, Turkey does not acknowledge the country’s existence
and has held a military occupation of the northeastern portion of the island
Known commonly as “North Cyprus,” this section of the island
is recognized only by Turkey as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Greek
Cypriots, on the other hand, would like to see a unification of the entire
island under the Cypriot government.
The increasingly significant natural
gas discoveries along Cyprus’s shores have thereby added fuel to a long-burning
fire, as Turkey claims that a share of these resources belong to North
Israel could be instrumental in easing this strain – both over
hydrocarbon allocations and perhaps toward a “final settlement” between the two
entities – if the country would step in as a quiet middleman to help negotiate a
profit-sharing agreement, Dr. Ahmet Han of Kadir Has University’s international
relations faculty told the Post.
While ending the political conflict
between Cyprus and Turkey would be optimal, an agreement on natural gas could
occur without requiring Turkey to recognize Cyprus as a state or requiring
Cyprus to recognize the Turkish portion of the island as independent, Han
Han sat down with the Post on Thursday following a speech he
delivered at a conference titled “Natural Gas in the Eastern Mediterranean –
Economic Impacts and Strategic Implications,” held at the Institute for National
Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
Turkey objects to Cypriot exploration on
its western shores due to the fact that Turkey deems a portion of these areas to
be in its own continental shelf and another section to belong to Egypt, Han
explained to conference participants on Thursday. Any Turkish opposition over
Cypriot exploration in its eastern waters comes only from the idea that Turkey
objects to Cyprus’s sovereign right as a country to claim these resources, he
While Israel has yet to solidify an export policy for its own
natural gas reserves, Turkish leaders have lately urged Israel to consider
exporting gas to both Turkey and Europe through a Turkish
Israel’s apology to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara flotilla
incident may not have “turned the tables totally” in the countries’
relationship, but it has reminded Turkish officials that the two neighbors have
many mutual interests in the current time period, Han told the Post.
Cypriot government, on the other hand, has approved the future construction of a
liquefied natural gas plant on the island in Vesilikos, which the country hopes
Israel will see as the preferred path for export to both Europe and
In a recent interview with the Turkish English-language newspaper
Hürriyet Daily News, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz declared that the best
solution for the region would be for both Cyprus and Israel to export their gas
through a pipeline passing through Turkey.
Responding to this suggestion,
Cypriot Ambassador to Israel Dimitris Hatziargyrou told the Post last week that
no such cooperation between Turkey and Cyprus could even be considered until a
normalization process between the two states occurred.
The first option
toward achieving normalization, according to Hatziargyrou, would be a
“confidence building measure” for the disputed city of Famagusta. The second, he
explained, would be an adherence to the Ankara Protocol, which would mean Turkey
opening up its ports to all EU planes and ships.
Han, however, said he
felt that an agreement on natural gas revenue sharing between the two sides
could be the very tool that could lead toward normalization.
agreement could also allow for the transport of both Israeli and Cypriot gas
through a Turkish pipeline, even without Turkey fully recognizing Cyprus’s
existence as a country, he explained.
Israel’s participation in such a
deal would solidify its relationship with Turkey and “transform the
international relations” between the two neighbors, Han said.
Israel decide that it is interested in exporting gas through the Turkish option,
another impetus for taking part in such a process would be the additional
Cypriot gas flowing through that pipeline, according to Han.
Cyprus makes the project more feasible, the regional environment more secure and
the relationship between Turkey and Israel much more integrated,” he
Reiterating that the two countries would not necessarily have to
recognize each other, Han explained that a special commission guided by Israel
could grant each party certain rights.
Admittedly, he acknowledged, this
would not necessarily “be something that looks like the standard of
Countering assertions that a pipeline exporting
Israeli gas through Turkey could be risky due to political instability or
targeted terrorism, Han said he was confident that nothing like this would
happen in Turkey.
Although Turkish feelings are often tied up in the
Palestinian question, the sentiment “is never in animosity” toward Israel, he
A relationship based on hydrocarbons between the two countries
would be even more sustainable than a relationship based on mutual security
interests, Han added.
If the current situation prevails and Cypriot
natural gas explorations continue in today’s pattern, Han predicted that “Turkey
will do anything to make this not work,” and that the country has enough
international leverage to do so – particularly along the Cypriot western
For example, “if the Turkish navy was out there doing constant
patrols,” companies exploring in the contested areas could be scared away, he
“I’m not saying that this will escalate into a full-scale
war,” Han said. “The Greek Cypriots will try to involve everyone, including
Israel, and it would be irredeemable for them to be involved in such an
Israel’s participation as a “silent broker,” however, could
“definitely lead to a new era of stability and cooperation in the eastern
Mediterranean,” he stressed.
“Likewise, if this opportunity is managed
badly, it would be one of the new sources of tension in the eastern
Mediterranean – especially as far as the Turkish-Cypriot relationship is
concerned,” Han added. “That would be much more serious than the Mavi
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