The amphibious USS Iwo Jima flagship, seen in a file photo.
The increased US naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean until the end of the month is seen as an indication of the concern triggered by Turkey’s recent hostility in the region, which last month led to the suspension of Italian energy company Eni’s drilling operations in Block 3 of Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The incident with the Italian drillship was condemned by the governments of Cyprus, Italy and the US and the European Commission.
Even though the bolstered American presence is mainly due to a planned exercise by the US and Israel, it almost coincides with scheduled hydrocarbon drilling in Block 10 of Cyprus’s EEZ by American energy giant ExxonMobil.
According to sources, the US will begin strengthening its naval presence as of Wednesday in the region between southern Cyprus and Israel, but this is reportedly not directly linked to exploration activities by Exxon which are due to start on Sunday and last until April 20.
Kathimerini understands a US naval group and its amphibious USS Iwo Jima flagship will, in collaboration with Israeli forces, conduct a population evacuation exercise Wednesday.
It will also include the USS New York and USS Oak Hill and will last until March 18 in a region stretching from northern Israel to southern Cyprus. The three American ships are expected to remain in the area until at least March 25, which means their presence in the region around the island’s EEZ – along with that of the Israeli Navy – will coincide for around two weeks with Noble’s hydrocarbon exploration in Block 10.
Turkey has made no claims to Block 10 as it has done for Block 3, but nonetheless warned the US in recent days against sending its Sixth Fleet to the Eastern Mediterranean.
If anything, the warning is an indication of the strain on US-Turkish relations, which is also reflected in Ankara’s dismay at the US naval presence in the Black Sea.
Turkish objections appear to coincide with Moscow’s view that the US is testing the 1936 Montreux Convention that gives Turkey control over the Bosporus Strait and the Dardanelles and regulates the transit of naval warships. It also restricts the passage of naval ships not belonging to Black Sea states.