Fueling what is already a highly charged atmosphere, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced exploration and drilling activities in areas of the Eastern Mediterranean that are designated in the maritime border accord signed between Turkey and Libya, and which violate Greek sovereignty.
“With the help of God and very soon here we will begin seismic surveys and drilling," Erdogan said, pointing to an area south of Kastellorizo and east of Crete, during a Sunday appearance on Turkey’s A Haber TV.
He also called on “internationally powerful companies” to work with Ankara, noting that there are significant hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Erdogan reiterated that Ankara will send military aid if the government based in Tripoli requests it. He made his remarks shortly before it was announced that Ankara would send military doctors and aid to the Libyan government.
The Turkish president discussed the latest moves on Sunday with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj in Istanbul.
Moreover, in a move that could further stoke Greek-Turkish tension, a Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 type unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) meant to help search for hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean landed at Lefkoniko airport in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus on Monday.
More Turkish Air Force UAVs are expected to arrive in the occupied north to help in research and drilling operations within Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO).
The arrival of the UAV on Monday follows the recent revelation in the Jerusalem Post that the Bat Galim, a vessel of the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institution, was harassed and forced out of Cyprus’ EEZ by a Turkish warship.
That incident apparently occurred on November 18 but was revealed on Sunday, after an Israeli fighter flew circles around a Turkish drillship in response to Turkey’s harassment last month.
Ankara’s moves are seen as an effort to exploit the current power vacuum in Israel and to influence Tel Aviv regarding its energy policy in the region.
Reports in Turkey and Israel, as well as sources in Athens, confirm that Ankara has approached Tel Aviv, noting that since Turkey and Libya have delimited their maritime zones, there can be no EastMed natural gas pipeline without Ankara’s approval.
Meanwhile, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday that Greece considers the maritime border deal signed between Turkey and Libya as “nonexistent” as it was signed by a government that “had no such authorization.”
Dendias, who met for talks with Guterres in Geneva, said he explained Greece’s position on the issue and outlined the dangers posed to the region by Turkish views on maritime law.