(RIEAS Research Associate – Security Analyst)
On the 17th of December 2010, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Markos Kyprianou, and the Minister of National Infrastructures of Israel, Mr. Uzi Landau, signed the Agreement on the Delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between Cyprus and Israel. The creation of the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone was the product of initiatives belonging to the former President of Cyprus, Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos. Despite intense Turkish reactions, the decision of the Cypriot EEZ was immediately accepted by the European Union and the United States. The afore-mentioned agreement between the two states is of high strategic importance for various reasons that will be discussed in the current article and show that a similar agreement between the Republic of Cyprus and Greece is of critical importance in regards to the protection of Greek and Cypriot national and economic interests.
More specifically, it has become clear that Turkey’s political agenda in the region conflicts with that of Israel in a number of issues that are of extreme importance. Turkish support to the Iranian nuclear ambitions, the strengthening ties between Turkey, Syria and Iran as well as the unconditional support to the Palestinians on behalf of the Turkish state indicate that the so-called Turkey’s Zero-problems foreign policy which seeks to enhance the exertion of influence to the Islamic world, has crossed the West’s as well as Israeli red lines. In the context of this emerging geo-political environment, Cyprus and Israel have come closer and signed an agreement that would be mutually beneficial. To continue with, it is worth mentioning that Cyprus has also come to an agreement on the Delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone with the states of Egypt, Lebanon and Syria.
The Israeli-Cypriot agreement explicitly shows how a relatively small power like the Republic of Cyprus, pursues strategies and forms strategic alliances that enhance its status in the region and protects its national and economic interests. Despite the fact that Cyprus has been trapped in a strategic deadlock for nearly four decades now, with the 37 per cent of its territory illegally occupied by Turkish military forces since 1974, the afore-mentioned agreements should be considered as positive developments and should be used as a paradigm for Greece.
Turkish intense reactions came as no surprise in the aftermath of the Cypriot-Israeli bilateral agreement. In response, the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement underlining that: “The recent Agreement on Delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone, which was co-signed by the Republic of Cyprus and the State of Israel, was within the framework of exercising the Republic’s sovereign rights. Issues concerning the Republic of Cyprus and the exercise of its sovereign rights do not concern any third State. The conclusions of the recent EU Foreign Ministers Council, which were subsequently adopted by the EU Summit, reiterate the right of all Member States to exercise their sovereign rights”. At the same wavelength, Tel Aviv also condemned Turkish reactions stating that the agreement was signed between two sovereign states and Turkey has no legitimate right to condemn the bilateral agreement. The Israeli Minister of Infrastructure stated: “The signing reflects the close relations and ongoing cooperation between Israel and Cyprus”. Hence, the Republic of Cyprus has made steps that clarify its sea borders with third states which are by all means essential in protecting its right to oil and underwater natural gas in the near future.
The former president of the Republic of Cyprus Tassos Papadopoulos, while in office between 2003 and 2008, suggested to the Greek leadership to sign an agreement which would unify the Greek and Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zones. Unfortunately, decision-makers in Athens would not take the initiative to the signing of the agreement. The undersigned argues that the unification of the Greek and Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zones is a strategic priority and must top the political agenda of both states, especially if we take into account that Kastellorizo, the southern-east-most of the Greek territory and which Turkey constantly accounts as part of the so-called grey-zone – and therefore not part of the Greek territory-, coincides with the Cypriot EEZ.
A future agreement between Greece and Cyprus regarding their economic zones will be held in the context of international law and sovereign rights of the two states and will contribute to the security and stability of the broader region of the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s increasingly aggressive behavior and expansionary policy over Greek islands in the Aegean archipelago would receive a serious blow and would be in the best national and economic interest of Greece as it would be in a position to benefit from underwater gas and oil reservoirs in its delineated Exclusive Economic Zone.