Israel Steps Into Intracommunal Dispute in Gas-rich Cyprus

Visit to Israel by foreign minister of self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus condemned by EU-member Cyprus.

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Özdil Nami
Özdil NamiCredit: Courtesy TRNC Foreign Ministry

The visit to Israel this week of Özdil Nami, foreign minister of the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, has landed Israel in hot water with its ally in the southern part of the divided island.

Nami was a keynote speaker at the Israel Energy and Business Convention 2014 in Tel Aviv - at exactly the same time that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was visiting Cyprus and meeting with his Cypriot counterpart Ioannis Kasoulides.

Northern Cyprus was occupied by Turkey in 1974 and its government is not recognized by any country, excepting Turkey. Nami's visit was unofficial, but it is unlikely that it would have gone ahead without the consent of both Ankara and Jerusalem.

The discovery of vast natural gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean has enmeshed Turkey, Israel and Cyprus in a web of shifting alliances and conflicts, which are complicated by the shaky relations between Israel and Turkey, the largest energy consumer in the region, and the ongoing division of Cyprus.

Nami's participation in the conference was omitted from the program.

Another speaker, Cyprus Hydrocarbons Company (CHC) head Toula Onoufriou, expressed her "shock” at the participation of "a so-called official from a pseudo state, which is the result of the continuous occupation and invasion of Cyprus by Turkey,” according the Famagusta Gazette, based in the southern part of the island which is a member of the European Union.

Nami said during his speech that the Turkish Cypriots have rights to the hydrocarbons off the shores of Cyprus – a very touchy subject with their Greek-speaking neighbors.

He added that the turmoil in the Middle East and the escalation of tension in the eastern Mediterranean demonstrate more than ever that coordinated efforts by all regional actors are needed to bring peace and stability to the region.

Lieberman said after talks with his Cypriot counterpart that Cyprus' right to explore for oil and gas off its shores must be respected by all countries, including Turkey.

Turkey doesn't recognize ethnically divided Cyprus as a sovereign state and strongly opposes its gas search, arguing that it ignores the rights of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to any mineral-generated wealth.

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