Greece plans joint military exercises with Israel, Cyprus and Egypt, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said Wednesday, amid continuing tensions between Cyprus and Turkey over oil exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.
Kammenos, visiting close ally Cyprus, said the two countries, along with Israel and “possibly” Egypt would begin joint exercises within the coming months aimed at improving regional security.
Cyprus has suspended UN-led peace talks with Turkey, which invaded the island in 1974 and still occupies its northern third, saying Ankara persists in trying to hamper the country’s energy search.
Nicosia has licensed exploratory drilling in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and is unhappy that Ankara is determined to search for oil and gas in the same area.
Kammenos criticized as a “clear provocation” Turkey’s sending of a survey ship to the waters where the drilling is taking place.
“We want peace,” Kammenos told reporters during an official visit, “but we are also ready to respond to any attempt against the national sovereignty or territorial integrity of the broader defense area of Greece and Cyprus, if necessary.”
Kammenos said Cyprus and Greece, which he called “pillars of stability and security,” would upgrade cooperation in the light of the island’s energy search within its exclusive economic zone.
At the same time, Athens would proceed with delineating its offshore boundaries for its own exploration.
Kammenos said cooperation “essentially extends the responsibility of providing security and defense areas by defining the EEZ, which Cyprus has already done and very soon the Greek Republic will do as well.”
He said regional security also meant closer ties with Israel, another energy player.
“Defense planning should take into account friends and allies which seek defense cooperation in the region. And I clearly I mean eastward toward Israel.”
US firm Noble Energy made the first find off Cyprus’s southeast coast in 2011 in a block estimated to contain up to 6 trillion cubic feet (170 billion cubic meters) of gas.
Cyprus has ambitions to become a regional gas hub for its own exports, as well those from Israel and even Lebanon.
Energy-starved Egypt is also banking on Cyprus un-tapping greater reserves.
Cyprus is hoping to export its gas, and maybe oil, by 2022.