Turkey starts flying drones over East Med for drilling work

The Bayraktar TB2 drone landed in Gecitkale Airport in Famagusta. (File/AFP)
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Updated 18 December 2019

Turkey starts flying drones over East Med for drilling work

  • Aerial vehicles ‘could be used for military support reconnaissance’

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.

NATO calls on Russia, Syria to halt Idlib offensive

Updated 28 February 2020

NATO calls on Russia, Syria to halt Idlib offensive

  • Turkey said the airstrikes happened despite coordination with Russian officials on the ground
  • A total of 53 Turkish security personnel have been killed in Idlib this month

BRUSSELS: NATO’s secretary-general called on Russia and Syria on Friday to halt the offensive in Idlib and said, after a meeting of the alliance’s ambassadors, that NATO stood in solidarity with Turkey.

“We call on Russia and the Syria regime to stop the attacks, to stop the indiscriminate air attacks ... we also call on Russia and Syria to fully respect the international law,” Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference.

“We call on Syria and Russia to fully engage in UN-led efforts to find a peaceful solution for the conflict in Syria.”

The statements come as conflict in the region escalated, with at least 33 Turkish soldiers killed in an airstrike blamed on Damascus.

NATO earlier said they were holding emergency talks on Friday in the wake of the incident.
“The North Atlantic Council, which includes the ambassadors of all 29 NATO allies, will meet on Friday 28 February following a request by Turkey to hold consultations under article 4 of NATO’s founding Washington Treaty on the situation in Syria,” the alliance said in a statement.
Under Article 4, any NATO member can request talks when they believe their “territorial integrity, political independence or security” is threatened.
It is separate from the alliance’s Article 5 mutual self-defense pact, which refers to an attack on any members’ territory.
Dozens more Turkish troops were injured in the air strike in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, where President Bashar Assad is seeking to wipe out the last rebel stronghold.
The losses come after weeks of growing tensions between Ankara and Damascus ally Moscow, and bring to 53 the number of Turkish security personnel killed in the province this month.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg urged de-escalation and condemned the “indiscriminate” air strikes in a phone call with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar later said the airstrikes happened despite coordination with Russian officials on the ground, and that the attacks continued after a warning being made after the first strikes. Akar also said 309 Syrian government soldiers, which are backed which are backed by Moscow, were killed in retaliation.

Ankara has called talks under Article 4 a number of times in recent years — twice in 2012 including after one of its jets was shot down by Syrian forces, and once in 2015 after a spate of terrorists attacks in Turkey.
After the 2012 incidents NATO agreed to deploy Patriot missile batteries in Turkey as a defensive measure.

Meanwhile, groups of migrants in Turkey headed toward its borders with Greece and Bulgaria on Friday, Reuters reporters said, after a senior official said Ankara will no longer abide by a 2016 EU deal and stop refugees from reaching Europe.