Cyprus and Israel Energy Ties Further Divide Eastern Mediterranean
Several weeks ago, we shared a view of travel events planned by world leaders to visit Europe during the first half of 2012. There were many interesting meetings and interactions to be examined, but one pair of events that stood out was the close proximity of visits to Cyprus by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s during mid-February and Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz at the end of February.
Territorial claims over Cyprus continue to be a contentious foreign policy item for Turkey, and are particularly divisive in its relations with Greece and the European Union. However, the confirmation of huge natural gas deposits in the neighboring Mediterranean waters claimed by Israel and Cyprus (dubbed the Leviathan gasfield) adds a new, potentially volatile element to Turkish relations in the area. Sending Yildiz to visit northern Cyprus shows its attempt to balance out the increasingly tight knit partnership between EU-friendly Israel and Cyprus related to natural gas fields in the region.
The timeline below shows how significantly the relations between Israel and Cyprus grew during the last two years with the callouts highlighting notable moments related to natural gas development:
The recent visit to Cyprus by Netanyahu comes several months after Turkey imposed further economic sanctions and severed military ties with Israel. The quote sitting at the bottom of the timeline is from Dr. Greg Reichberg, Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) Cyprus Centre, that suggests energy trade could impact Cyprus in two ways: act as a catalyst that helps resolve the territorial dispute, or potentially incite further conflict over valuable, non-renewable energy sources.
The next step for analyzing this situation at a high level is to evaluate major diplomatic efforts between both Israel and Turkey. The network below shoes diplomatic relation events for Israel and Turkey as reported during the last twelve months with the nodes connecting both countries showing separate interactions. While there are states such as Iran and Greece shown that are one-sided in these relations, others are connective states (France, Germany, the United States) that have much to lose should they be forced to take sides due to heightened discord between Turkey and Israel.
We’ve seen recent challenges over offshore drilling territory come and go (see the dispute over oil deposits in the South China Sea), but this will certainly be an issue to watch as the Israel’s relations with Arab countries remain as stormy as ever. Additionally, we’re provided the opportunity to watch how this develops as projections show Israel’s Mari-B gas field is expected to depleted by 2013 and drilling in the Leviathan field could begin as early as 2016.
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