ANKARA: Turkey began sending unmanned aerial vehicles to Cyprus on Sunday Dec. 15, tightening its control over the region to oversee gas exploration.
The drones will escort drilling vessels and naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean, with the move seen as a new attempt to expand drilling activities in the area.
Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus allows Turkey to launch drones from the recently completed Gecitkale air base, in the eastern coastal city of Magusa.
“In light of developments in the eastern Mediterranean region, and at the request of the Turkish Cypriot Peace Forces Command, the Turkish Cypriot government is allowing for activities of unmanned aerial vehicles at Gecitkale Airport to protect Turkey’s and Turkish Cyprus’ legitimate rights and interests,” the prime minister’s office of the self-declared Turkish regime in northern Cyprus said in a statement.
Turkey has already dispatched one exploration and two drilling vessels. The country also recently signed a controversial deal with Libya to determine maritime borders and to pave the way for joint drilling activities in the zone, fueling tension with the EU as well as Greece, Cyprus and Egypt.
Dr. Zenonas Tziarras, a researcher at the PRIO Cyprus Center, said this new development had been expected following the completion of the base.
“The new air base and the deployment of drones is about the enhancement of Turkey’s power projection in the eastern Mediterranean, which Ankara promotes as a tit-for-tat move,” he told Arab News.
The new air base and the deployment of drones is about the enhancement of Turkey’s power projection in the Eastern Mediterranean, which Ankara promotes as a tit-for-tat move.
Dr. Zenonas Tziarras, Researcher
Tziarras added the move comes amidst broader geopolitical tensions in the eastern Mediterranean that stem from the Turkey-Libya deal on maritime zones, and further escalates the ongoing crisis between Turkey, Israel, Cyprus, Egypt, and Greece.
“The further militarization of the crisis, especially in the context of power projection and coercive diplomacy, be it with drones, air or naval forces, can only have negative results,” Tziarras said.
Israel recently claimed that Turkish navy ships intercepted an Israeli research vessel sailing off the Cypriot coast conducting research in coordination with Cyprus two weeks ago.
For some, Turkey’s tactic in using northern Cyprus as a springboard for its drones has allowed it to observe Greek, Egyptian and Israeli drilling activities, while others claim that the drones could be used in Libya for military support reconnaissance.
Turkey began its fourth round of drilling in the eastern Mediterranean on Nov. 23, which is believed to have rich hydrocarbon reserves.
But its naval presence in waters off the south of Cyprus with its own drilling vessels has been harshly criticized by Brussels, which warned of possible sanctions against Turkish companies involved in these drilling activities.