Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz declared that Jerusalem views Turkey’s recent agreement with Libya to divide the eastern Mediterranean Sea between themselves as “illegal.” He was quick to note the official pronouncement “doesn’t mean we are sending battleships to confront Turkey.”
Katz made the remarks during an interview on Israel’s Channel 13, when asked to confirm earlier reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu informed Cyprus’ president of Israel’s stance on the maritime deal last Friday.
The top Israeli diplomat also underscored that while tensions between Israel and Turkey are rising and that Jerusalem considers Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to be “an adversary,” neither side is looking to escalate the dispute militarily. “We have no desire, and Turkey has no desire for a confrontation with Israel,” he stressed.
Turkey inflamed Mediterranean geopolitics on 28 November, when it signed a major agreement with Libya’s Government of National Accord to divide maritime zones in parts of the Mediterranean, in violation of internationally-recognized sovereign and economic rights of Greece and Cyprus. Turkish claims that its redefined, self-proclaimed jurisdiction of territorial waters now stretch from its own southwestern coast to Libya’s Derna-Tobruk shoreline was rejected by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias as “verging on the ridiculous” as it “ignores something that is blatantly obvious,” namely the island of Crete. Egypt also condemned the pact as “illegal.”
There have also been long-simmering tensions with Turkey over the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) collaboration inked between Israel and Cyprus in 2010, regarding the joint natural gas extraction plan of the vast offshore fields called Tamar (discovered in 2009), Leviathan (2010) and Aphrodite (2011). A so-called “Energy Triangle” was created with Greece, beginning with the signing of a Tripartite Memorandum in 2013.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau has confirmed that he will attend a summit with the leaders of Greece and Cyprus next month, to officially sign the new East-Med pipeline deal to stream natural gas from Israel, via Cyprus to Greece and Europe. According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, the agreement has been in the works since 2017 and will “anchor the countries’ commitment to establish the project.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades reportedly intend to advance the plan with Israel, in rejection of Turkey’s assertion of authority over their economic waters. They will ink the deal alongside Netanyahu in Athens on January 2.