Alwaght- Turkish navy reportedly has blocked an Israeli research vessel in Cypriot waters, over which Ankara claims jurisdiction, forcing it to leave the area.
Quoting unnamed senior Israeli officials, Israel’s channel 13 news reported Saturday that the rare incident occurred two weeks ago when Turkish vessels approached Bat Galim.
Turkish navy officers radioed the Israeli ship and demanded to know its business in the area, over which Turkey claims jurisdiction, and then ordered it leave. The Israeli vessel had no choice but to comply and depart, said the report.
According to the report, the Israeli ship was conducting research in coordination with Cypriot officials and the Cypriot government.
Over the past year, Turkey has sent military ships as well as drilling ships to search for crude oil in the waters.
Recently, tensions have risen between Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus regarding gas fields discovered in the eastern Mediterranean.
In an interview with Reuters in September, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused Greek Cypriots of trying to deprive Northern Cyprus of its rights.
EU member Cyprus and Turkey have argued for years regarding the ownership of fossil fuels in the eastern Mediterranean, where Ankara says Turkish Cypriots are entitled to a share of the resources.
Tensions rose again last month when Turkey signed agreements on maritime boundaries and military cooperation in the Mediterranean with Libya.
Erdogan said the maritime deal with Libya — which maps out a boundary between the two countries in the energy-rich eastern Mediterranean close to the Greek island of Crete — was in line with international law.
Israel's Channel 13 said tensions could negatively affect ambitious Israeli project to pipe natural gas to Europe. The pipeline is set to pass through Cyprus and Greece’s territorial waters.
According to the report, an Israeli embassy official in Ankara was summoned last week to be warned that the pipeline would require Turkey’s approval since it has to pass through Turkey's economic waters.
“The Turks are trying to establish themselves as the ones running the show, and that is very worrying,” an Israeli official told Channel 13.
Turkey, which does not have diplomatic ties with the Greek Cyprus, has vowed to prevent what it sees as a unilateral move by Greek Cypriots to claim offshore resources. It says some areas of Cyprus’s offshore maritime zone fall under what Ankara calls the territory of the Turkish Cyprus.
The island has been divided into Turkish Cypriot-controlled northern and Greek Cypriot-controlled southern territories since a brief war in 1974, which saw Turkey intervene militarily in response to a Greek-backed military coup on the island to annex Cyprus to Greece.
Greek Cypriots run the island’s government in the south, while Turkish Cypriots have a breakaway state in the north and say offshore resources belong to them, too.
Israel has signed a multilateral deal for the East Med Pipeline Project with Greece, Italy and Cyprus. The European Union also supports the project.
Israel is already locked in a bitter dispute with Lebanon over tapping Mediterranean energy resources.
Last February, Israel described as “very provocative” a Lebanese tender for projects in two of the Arab country's 10 offshore blocks in the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel itself has long been developing a number of disputed offshore gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea, with the Tamar gas field with proven reserves of 200 billion cubic meters already producing gas, while the larger Leviathan field is expected to go online in the coming months.