Israelis found themselves embroiled in the Cypriot sovereignty conflict earlier this week, following a appearance of a Turkish Cypriot official at a Tel Aviv energy conference.
“The invitation of Mr. [Özdil] Nami to this conference and his appearance in the opening session without any mention in the conference program is unacceptable and is not in the spirit of collaboration that has been developed between our countries,” said Prof. Toula Onoufriou, president of the Cyprus Hydrocarbons Company, a commercial arm of the Republic of Cyprus.
Onoufriou issued her statement prior to a Monday presentation at the Israel Energy and Business convention. She was referring to the keynote address of Özdil Nami, the foreign minister of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Although Cyprus gained independence in 1960, and became a member of the European Union in 2004, conflict over the island’s sovereignty has persisted between the recognized, predominantly Greek republic and Turkish occupiers of the island’s north.
Turkey does not recognize the existence of the Republic of Cyprus, and occupies the northern portion of the island – contrary to numerous United Nations resolutions.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, meanwhile, is recognized only by Turkey.
In response to the occupation, the Republic of Cyprus has closed down all airports and seaports in the northern portion of the island.
During her speech, Onoufriou said she was shocked by the appearance of “a so-called official from a pseudo state, which is the result of the continuous occupation and invasion of Cyprus by Turkey.”
As Israel looks at possible export outlets and partners with which to develop its natural gas resources, it found itself caught in the throes of a complex neighboring conflict.
Israel’s sizable 621 billion cubic meter Leviathan gas reservoir sits just adjacent to the Cypriot Aphrodite reservoir, a basin expected to contain between 100 b.cu.m. and 170 b.cu.m. of gas, which is being drilled by some of the same entrepreneurs working in the Israeli reservoirs – Noble Energy and the Delek Group.
Exploration also recently began at two other blocks in the Cypriot zone, by the Italian and Korean firms Eni and Korea Gas.
Israel’s Leviathan is expected to begin flowing in 2017 or 2018. Leviathan’s smaller, 282 b.cu.m. neighbor to its east, Tamar, began generating gas for the Israeli domestic market in March 2013.
While the Israeli government approved an export policy in June 2013, capping exports to 40 percent, the question still remains to whom the bulk of the gas will be sold – despite a number of recent letters of intent and small agreements signed with Jordanian, Palestinian and Egyptian partners.
Both Cyprus and Turkey have courted Israel as a possible partner – Cyprus through liquefied natural gas (LNG) export options and Turkey through a pipeline.
As Cyprus develops its own natural gas resources, Turkey has lately become increasingly aggressive toward it, sending navy vessels within close proximity of the Cypriot offshore reservoirs. The Turkish government – and its representatives on the northern portion of the Cypriot island – believe that northern Cyprus residents also have a right to share in the gas spoils.
“Natural resources of Cyprus belong to all Cypriots and must benefit all Cypriots,” Nami, the foreign minister, said at the conference on Monday.
He called for a united Cyprus comprised of Cyprus and Turkish federations, with cooperation fueled by the offshore natural gas discoveries.
“Dealing with a united Cyprus expands the options available,” he said.
Nami called upon Greek Cypriots to return to the negotiating table, stressing that hydrocarbons should not “be used as a leverage against one side.”
“Positive steps on this matter could lead the way to cooperation in other fields,” he added.
To the Cypriot officials and businessmen present at the Israeli convention, however, Nami’s appearance was uncalled for and surprising.
“This so-called state is not recognized by any other country in the world, including the State of Israel,” Onoufriou said. “Contrary to what you have heard, all the civilized nations of the international community condemned Turkey for its illegal actions in the Cypriot exclusive economic zone.”
Coincidentally, just two days after the energy convention took place in Tel Aviv, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman traveled to Cyprus to meet with government officials, as well as attend a meeting of the Israel-Cyprus Chamber of Commerce.
After a meeting with his Cypriot counterpart, Ioannis Kasoulides, on Wednesday, Lieberman told reporters that Cypriots have “exclusive rights” to explore for hydrocarbons in their economic zone, according to the AFP news agency.
In response to the tension sparked by the Turkish Cypriot leader’s visit to Tel Aviv, the conference’s organizers emphasized the importance of keeping local gas industry stakeholders aware of the Cypriot conflict.
“Eco Energy Financial & Strategic consulting invited Minister Özdil Nami as a keynote speaker to Israel Energy & Business Convention, as we invite from year to year government and professional representatives from the Greek Cypriot side,” Dr. Amit Mor, CEO of Eco Energy, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
“It was very important to me to provide a stage also to the Turkish Cypriots and to present the Cypriot conflict in the conference because if Israel is to export gas from Leviathan to Cyprus, needless to say possibly one day to Turkey, the Cypriot conflict would be an inherent factor within the project scheme,” he said.
Explaining that geopolitical problems associated with any such project must be solved, Mor cited the Turkish opposition to gas exploration in the Cypriot exclusive economic zone prior to the settlement of gas distribution issues among Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
“The conflict is being demonstrated by the aggressive exploration activity of the Turks in the Greek Cypriot exclusive economic zone,” he said.
An additional political issue stems from the idea that “if and when export of Israeli gas to Turkey will become politically viable, construction of submarine pipelines from Israel to Turkey will need to pass through the Greek Cypriot exclusive economic zone,” Mor said.
Such construction, he explained, would require the consent of the Cypriot government.
“Thus, it is crucial for all the parties engaged, including the developers, the Israeli government and the public, to be aware of the Cypriot conflict,” he said. “In general, the Israeli public is not so familiar with that conflict.”
Regarding the fact that Nami’s visit was a surprise to conference participants as his name did not appear in the program, Mor added, “Minister Özdil and his delegation’s visit was only fixed in the last minute – two days before the convention.”