Three American warships have entered the broader region of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for joint military exercises, Juniper Cobra 2018, with Israel.
The presence of the US warships, which are scheduled to remain in the region until 25 March, is not officially related to the impending oil and gas drilling by ExxonMobil in Block 10 of Cyprus’ EEZ.
However, they will remain in the region during the first stage of drilling, and constitute a clear message to Ankara.
Turkish warships recently blocked the Italian energy company ENI from drilling in another area of Cyprus EEZ, Block 3, where it had acquired rights, and forced an Italian frigate to leave the region.
The US Ambassador to Athens, Geoffrey Pyatt, in an additional indirect message to Turkey, confirmed the presence of the American ships in the area by sharing the daily Kathimerini’s related report in a Twitter post, though Cyprus is not directly under his remit.
The US and Israeli forces will be conducting population evacuation manoeuvres, but their presence is seen as a strong message to Turkey, which went as far as warning US forces not to enter the region, and now says there will be repercussions if Ankara’s rights are violated.
A top advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the last days indicated that Ankara could even stage a military strike to impede oil and gas exploration, but that was not directed specifically at Washington.
The American naval group includes some of the US Navy’s top firepower – the USS Iwo Jima, the USS New York, and the USS Oak Hill.
By all appearances, Ankara is prepared to block offshore areas that are between the Turkish coast and the northeastern part of the island, which they believe should be directly administered by the Turkish occupation regime and Ankara. That includes Block 3, but not Block 10, which is in the most southwestern part of Cyprus’ EEZ and most distant from the Turkish-occupied part of the island.
ExxonMobil and Cyprus
Suann Guthrie, an ExxonMobil spokesperson, said that preparations for exploration in Block 10 are going as planned, and that the company’s paramount aim is the security of crews and ships that will carry out the drilling.
Guthrie said that two exploratory drillings are planned, beginning with the first half of 2018. Part of that involves the issuance of necessary permits and the collection of environmental data with oil and gas exploration ships. She said that is expected to conclude in the next two months.
ExxonMobil, along with Qatar Petroleum, signed a contract with Cyprus in April, 2017.