Officials in Athens are gauging the distance between Ankara’s declared intentions and actual capabilities amid growing tension over energy deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey last week deployed the drilling ship Fatih, saying it will start exploring a few kilometers off its southern province of Antalya. The move is seen as a bid to make its presence felt in the area, as well as to discredit reports that the vessel was at risk of being left without a scientific team and the technology needed to start operations.
At the same time, the survey vessel Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa continues to operate in the area reserved by Ankara’s Navtex through February 1, which includes a segment of the Greek continental shelf and blocks 4 and 5 of Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone. In addition, Ankara is also reserving maritime areas between Greece’s easternmost Kastellorizo island and Cyprus for military exercises.
Meanwhile, several public statements by senior Turkish officials have challenged the territorial status quo in the East Med, with the apparent aim of expanding Ankara’s influence to the expense of the Greek and Cypriot maritime zones. Turkey’s territorial ambitions, which have in recent weeks been mostly put forward by Defense Minister Hulusi Akar – a former four-star general and close ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – have shifted from the south of Rhodes to the south of Crete. Coupled with this is a drive to strengthen ties with Libya.
Analysts say the increase in Turkish activity in the area is a response to scheduled drilling in Cyprus’s EEZ by US giant ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum.
Cypriot officials, who estimate that the area is rich in energy reserves, believe that the presence of American interests will keep Turkish aggression at bay.