In what is seen as a response to the trilateral summit next Wednesday in Jerusalem between Greece, Israel and Cyprus, with the participation of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Turkey has announced that it will start a naval exercise on the same day off the Mediterranean island’s southern coast and within part of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
During the summit, which has received Washington’s blessing, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and their Israeli host Benjamin Netanyahu are expected to sign an agreement that will pave the way for the construction of the EastMed pipeline to transfer natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe.
Turkey said the exercise will take place on March 20, 22, 25 and 27 and it has reserved a wide area south of Cyprus, including parts of blocks 1, 7 and 8 of the island’s EEZ.
The choice of area came as no surprise as the Turkish survey vessel Barbaros has been active in the area.
Cyprus, which has filed a complaint to the United Nations over Turkey’s activities in the area, remains apprehensive over Ankara’s stated plan to beginning drilling for gas off the island’s southern coast.
The meeting between the three men also comes amid another public spat between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Netanyahu.
Speaking on Wednesday, Erdogan denounced Netanyahu as a “thief who heads Israel” and a “tyrant.”
Referring to corruption allegations dogging the Israeli prime minister, Erdogan asked: “For what are he and his wife on trial for? For theft.”
“You are a tyrant. You are a tyrant who slaughters 7-year-old Palestinian kids,” he added.
Netanyahu responded in a tweet, calling Erdogan a “dictator who sends tens of thousands of political opponents to prison, commits genocide against the Kurds, and occupies northern Cyprus.”
“Turkey’s dictator Erdogan attacks Israel’s democracy while Turkish journalists and judges fill his prisons. What a joke!” the tweet said. “It’s best that he doesn’t get involved with Jerusalem, our capital for 3,000 years. Erdogan can only learn from us how to respect every religion and protect human rights,” Netanyahu said.