Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Turkish Warships Shell Narrow Water Between Israeli, Cypriot Gas Fields

AK Group • December 27, 2011

Cypriot President Demetris Christofias has warned Turkey to stop its warships shelling the strip of water dividing the Cypriot and Israeli gas exploration zones in the eastern Mediterranean.

Debkafile's military sources report Wednesday that Turkish warships began turning their guns on the strip dividing Israel's Leviathan gas field from Block 12 of Cyprus's Exclusive Economic Zone-EEZ, where a large gas field was recently discovered. Neither Israel nor Cyprus reported the Turkish attacks, which are staged in international waters, but both reinforced their naval units around the gas fields.

It was the Cypriot president who broke the silence Friday with a warning: "If Turkey does not change its gunboat diplomacy and stop playing the part of regional police officer, there will be consequences, which, for sure, will not be good -- either for the whole region or the Turkish people and, first and foremost, for Turkish Cypriots." On Thursday, Israel canceled the $90 million sale to the Turkish Air Force of Elbit's hi-tech LOROP-Long Range Oblique Photography military surveillance system. Israeli defense sources said the transaction was canceled lest SAR radar or LOROP technology find their way into the hands of Israel's enemies, such as Iran.

According to military sources, Israel timed the deal's cancelation as a warning to Ankara to back off from its campaign of harassment in and around Israel's gas fields. Jerusalem, Athens and Nicosia are economic and security partners in the exploration and development of eastern Mediterranean gas resources.

The same firm, Noble Energy Inc of Houston, Texas, is working both Cypriot and Israeli fields. Shares in the U.S. company are held in Cyprus by the Cypriot national energy company and in Israel by Delek Drilling LP and Avner Oil Exploration LLP.

The recent discovery that the gas fields are much bigger than first believed has raised the stakes around them. The three governments involved are looking forward to becoming major gas suppliers to Europe and so reducing the continent's dependence on Russian and Turkish gas pipelines. Noble Energy's latest estimate, published Dec. 19, added 6.3 percent to the Leviathan well's untapped potential, raising it from the previous estimate of 16 to 20 trillion cubic feet.

Nicosia too will shortly issue an upwardly revised estimate of its gas field. According to Debkafile's energy industry sources, the new figure is cautiously estimated as 10 trillion cubic feet.

Both expect Ankara to escalate its nuisance offensive after the new Nicosia bulletin. As a precaution, Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis was dispatched to Washington on Dec. 19 to talk the situation over with administration officials and obtain U.S. support for the continuing gas enterprise and the Cypriot stance against Turkish threats.

According to our Washington sources, the advice from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to go full steam ahead with gas drilling and ignore Turkish harassment. After their meeting, Kozakou-Marcoullis said the prospects for gas development have already dramatically increased her country's strategic importance.

In a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, she called Turkey "the neighborhood bully," adding that a Turkey "whose foreign minister once promoted a policy of 'zero problems' with its neighbors is now pursuing a policy of 'only problems.'"


Israel Lawmakers to Debate Recognizing Armenian Genocide Claims

An Israeli parliamentary committee is to hold a debate on Monday on recognizing the Armenian genocide claims, a move likely to further strain already tense relations with Turkey.

The education committee is to convene at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposal to mark April 24, the day when killings allegedly started in 1915, as a memorial day for "the massacre of the Armenian people." A similar proposal was rejected by parliament in 2007, when ties between Israel and Turkey were warm.

But relations plunged into deep crisis last year when Israeli forces killed nine Turks in a raid on a Turkish ferry, part of an activist flotilla seeking to breach Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.

"We've been working on this for many years," Georgette Avakian of the Armenian National Committee in Jerusalem told Israeli public radio. "Hope the time has come."

In October, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador and axed military ties and defence trade. Last week, Israel cancelled completion of a 2008 contract to sell Turkey aerial surveillance equipment.

A parliamentary supporter of an Israeli memorial day for Armenian genocide claims -- Zahava Gal-On of the left-wing Meretz party -- said the changed diplomatic climate might mean that the measure gains support this time.

"For many years, Israel's government has refused to recognise the genocide for cynical, strategic and economic reasons, connected to its ties with Turkey," she told the Haaretz daily. "Now, given the state of relations between the countries, I can't rule out the possibility that the foreign ministry is exploiting affairs."

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kinsmen died in orchestrated killings during the final years of the Ottoman Empire. But the Turkish government strongly denies this, saying 300,000 Armenians and as many Turks were killed in civil conflict when the Christian Armenians, backed by Russia, rose up against the Ottoman Empire.

France's lower house voted last week to criminalize the denial of genocide claims in Armenia, prompting Turkey to suspend political and military cooperation.


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