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CYPRUS: Israel fears that reckless Erdogan will sabotage East Med energy search

11 October, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Nicosia and Athens that Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s erratic behaviour could see him disrupt their East Med energy plans.

“Turkey is becoming undemocratic,” Netanyahu said, according to Israel’s Channel 10 that cited Israeli officials familiar with a September meeting involving Greek and Cypriot diplomats.

The Israeli PM made the comments to Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides and his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias in Jerusalem last month.

He also warned the Greek and Cypriot ministers the Turkish leader may act to sabotage their natural gas drilling operations in the East Mediterranean.

“Erdogan is unpredictable and reckless. We’re worried and watching to see if he does something in the region [about the gas] … I’m pessimistic.”

Turkey has warned foreign companies from exploring for gas offshore Cyprus and said it would act to protect its interests

Ankara also plans to start exploring for hydrocarbons in the region around the same time that ExxonMobil is scheduled to begin test drills off Cyprus.

Cyprus, Israel, Italy and Greece are also pushing ahead with an envisioned pipeline that will supply east Mediterranean gas to Europe as the continent seeks to diversify its energy supply.

The proposed EastMed Pipeline Project would start about 170 kilometers off Cyprus’s southern coast and stretch for 2,200 kilometers to reach Otranto, Italy, via Crete and the Greek mainland.

The so-called EastMed Pipeline Project will have the capacity to carry up to 20 billion cubic meters of gas yearly.

“Erdogan calls me ‘Hitler’ every two weeks. It’s a systemic problem – I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel,” Netanyahu told the ministers.

He accused Erdogan of “making economic decisions that make no sense” that compound weaknesses in the Turkish economy.

Netanyahu and Erdogan have clashed a number of times this year over Gaza killings and a controversial law passed by the Knesset earlier this year defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

After dozens of Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli troops in May, Erdogan branded Israel a “terrorist state” and claimed it was committing genocide against Palestinians.

Turkey recalled its ambassador and expelled Israel’s ambassador and consul in Istanbul.

Israel responded in kind, expelling Turkey’s consul-general in Jerusalem and summoning the country’s deputy ambassador for a dressing down.

In July, Erdogan again lashed out at Israel after the Jewish nation-state law was passed, calling it the “most fascist, racist state” in the world, and said that the “spirit of Hitler… has found its resurgence among some of Israel’s leaders.”

Occupier of Cyprus

Netanyahu promptly hit back at the Turkish leader, accusing him of ushering Turkey into a “dark dictatorship” under his rule. The prime minister also slammed Turkey’s ongoing “massacres” in Kurdish regions in Syria and called him the “Occupier of Cyprus”.

But according to Channel 10, Netanyahu said the recent flare-up in tensions has ended the bilateral intelligence coordination between the two countries.

“Turkey wanted to advance reconciliation with Israel two years ago because of the situation in Syria,” he said. “Now [after the removal of the Israeli ambassador in Ankara] there isn’t even intelligence cooperation with Turkey on Syria.”

Meanwhile, Turkey is facing an economic crisis and a collapsing currency amid a diplomatic falling out and trade dispute with Washington over Ankara’s detention of an American pastor on espionage and terror-related charges.

Netanyahu told Christodoulides and Kotzias he did not expect tensions between Washington and Ankara to recede until after the US midterm elections because President Donald Trump would continue to heavily pressure Ankara to release Andrew Brunson to appease his Evangelical constituents.

“Trump won’t ease up the pressure,” he told the ministers, adding that he had agreed to help repair the fraying ties between the two countries.