by John Galt
May 20, 2012 10:00 ET
The world is focused so intently on the coming collapse of Greece and their withdrawal from the European Monetary Union that one of the byproducts of the regional instability in the Balkans continues to operate much like the Israeli Air Force has been in the same region. This week saw the first direct interaction between Israeli Air Force and Turkish fighter planes near Cyprus that I can recall in modern times (From Hurriyet Daily News see: Turkey asks Israel to explain airspace ‘violation’).
This interaction was not by accident nor unintentional by Israeli military officials. It is standard operating procedure to probe the defensive perimeter and air space by sending planes towards another nation’s defensive sphere. Turkey responded of course with their American made fighters and escorted the Israeli forces from the area near norther Cyprus. Why the sudden provocation by Israel? I refer everyone back to a story I produced on February 28th:
In that piece, I highlighted not only the existing hostility between Greece and Turkey, but the building enmity which indicates that both sides might be pressing the conflict over Cyprus to a new level. Unfortunately, Turkey took the heat up to a new level on Friday when their government threatened any company willing to bid on drilling licenses via the Cypriot government under Greek control. From the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini:
The Turkish government did not pull any punches in their threat (from the article above):
Turkey issued a warning on Friday that if companies seeking a license to drill for oil deposits off Cyprus do not withdraw their bids, they “will not be included in energy projects in Turkey in the future,” according to reports.
“We call on the countries concerned and the oil companies to act with common sense, not to engage in activities in maritime fields that are under dispute… and to withdraw from the bidding,” the statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry said, adding, “Turkey will not allow any activity in these fields.”
This is a direct threat to the nation of Greece which needs the oil fields to start generating revenue via Cyprus to help their floundering economy and to reduce their dependence on foreign sources as the nation’s economy continues to collapse. The Cypriot government responded with a statement which indicates that there is little tolerance for the threats issued by the government in Ankara (via the Cyprus News Agency):
Government spokesman Stephanos Stephanou described Turkish threats against the Cyprus` second licensing round for hydrocarbon exploration in its Exclusive Economic Zone as unacceptable, adding that Cyprus will go ahead as planned.
In statements following a commemoration ceremony in the southwestern coastal city of Paphos, Stephanou said that in a bid to impede Cyprus from promoting its plans for new hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation of natural gas deposits discovered in its EEZ, Turkey launches threats violating the international law and the UN law of the sea.
The tit-for-tat did not end there however as Israel has openly declared a willingness to defend their energy investments on and around Cyprus. The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News had the following dramatic allegation to keep the embers of a potentially simmering conflict hot:
From the article:
Israel wants its energy projects in Greek Cyprus to be run by Israelis and is seeking to deploy as many as 20,000 commandos for their protection, Anatolia news agency reported today.
Netanyahu reportedly offered during the same meeting to undertake all the expenses required to construct a gas plant needed to extract the natural gas found in the Mediterranean Sea, the report said. In exchange, Netanyahu asked that all the 10,000 personnel that would work at the plant be brought in from Israel with their families, which would increase the number to nearly 30,000.
The high number of Israelis in Greek Cyprus would present a security issue, which Netanyahu suggested be solved by sending as many as 20,000 Israeli commandos to safeguard both the Israelis and the natural gas plant, the agency said.
While this seems like an extremely exaggerated number of troops to be placed there, as the last reports I saw in February placed initial estimates at 5,000 including support personnel for a squadron from the IAF. If the plans are implemented and the Israeli military proceeds with the deployment along with the drilling off of Cyprus and current relations between Israel and Turkey continue to deteriorate, then the stage is being set for a powerful military conflict which would pit NATO against itself and America against its only real democratic ally in the Middle East.