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The Strategic Situation of Cyprus

mercredi 9 mars 2011, par Lars Wedin

Background

Recent surveys show that there are great hopes for important hydrocarbon deposits in the triangle formed by Cyprus – Lebanon – Israel – Egypt. So far vast amount of natural gas has been found within Israel’s offshore Leviathan structure (between Cyprus and Israel). Cyprus has signed agreements on the delimitation of the offshore EEZ [1] with Lebanon (not yet ratified), Israel and Egypt. Turkey has, unsurprisingly, protested against these agreements. Cyprus is planning to build the Vasilikos Energy Centre (VEC) in order to store and handle LNG [2] and petroleum products.

* This analysis is part of a work for ERPIC (European Rim Policy and Investment Council, www.erpic.org)


Analysis

1. The findings of large quantities of hydrocarbon deposits, in the waters between Cyprus on the one hand and Egypt – Israel – Lebanon on the other, lead to a dramatic change in the strategic situation of Cyprus.

2. Cyprus has now declared its EEZ in an area encompassing roughly the southeastern to southwestern parts of its entire potential EEZ. This is an important step but it must be noted that Cyprus does not have the capabilities needed for the effective surveillance of this area and even less to control it.

3. The VEC will constitute a vital infrastructure. It will, hence, be a prime target for large scale terrorism. The VEC as well as the port facilities must be protected. In this context, the often discussed danger of a LNG-tanker used as a floating bomb must be taken into account.

4. Cyprus has the potential to become a major player in the energy field. It would, however, be a very unbalanced power as it has no real military capabilities. Such capabilities could, and to a certain extent should, be developed. But this would take time and risks to create a window of opportunity for potential enemies. In any way, Cyprus will hardly be able to develop a defense against high-level threats (Iranian WMD or a full scale Turkish invasion for example). A trip-wire defense is, on the other hand, quite possible. In many ways, the Cypriote situation looks like the situation faced by the Baltic States. The big difference is that they are members of NATO. As membership in NATO, for historical and political reasons, is not an option, Cyprus has to depend on EU solidarity. Such a solidarity is, however, not a given.

5. Cyprus is a member of the EU but has yet to be seen as a contributor ; today it is rather the opposite. Its influence is limited. This is illustrated by the fact that the Cyprus aspect of EU membership negotiations with Turkey is seldom brought forward neither among those who support such a membership (Sweden for example) or are against it (like France and Germany).

6. Present plans imply a close relationship with Israel. As Cyprus is militarily very weak and Israel a regional great power, this will become a very uneven relationship. With a close relationship to Israel, Cyprus and its interests (merchant ships under its flag for instance) risks to become a target for jihadist and/or Palestinian terrorism.

7. In this context, it should also be noted that the EU relationship with Israel is somewhat tense as Europe is very critical to the Israeli colonization of Palestinian land and the Human Rights situation in general. Cyprus risks to be squeezed between its energy cooperation with Israel and its obligations as an EU member.

8. The declaration of a part of the EEZ belonging, in accordance with international law, to Cyprus risks to increase tensions with Turkey. Reportedly, Turkey has had plans to divide the EEZ between itself and the other states in the eastern Med – except Cyprus. From that perspective, the Cypriote declaration constitutes an important threat. (Note ; it is not clear where boundaries of EEZ would be drawn with or without the presence of Cyprus). In a situation where Turkey gives up its plans to become a member of the EU, there could be a temptation for a military solution to the Cypriote issue.

9. If a new government in Egypt chooses to have close ties with Turkey, Cyprus may be in an awkward situation.

10. From a European perspective, Cyprus could contribute to a reduction of the dependence on Russian energy. This would be greatly appreciated – except, of course, by Russia. What Russia would do, if anything is difficult to foresee. It should be noted, in this context, that Russia has many friends in Cyprus.

Notes

[1Exclusive Economic Zone

[2Liquified Natural Gas