February 16, 2012 - 20:44 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Israel and Cyprus signed a military agreement Thursday, February 16 allowing the former to use the airspace and territorial waters around the eastern Mediterranean island to protect vital energy resources, M&C reported citing DPA.
The search and rescue agreement, signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cypriot President Demetris Christofias, will allow the Israeli air force and navy to enter Cypriot space in the case of accidents or actions against oil rigs in their exclusive economic zones.
Netanyahu's visit to the nearby eastern Mediterranean island - the first ever by an Israeli leader - was likely to irk Israel's former ally Turkey, which has challenged Cyprus's jurisdiction over offshore gas and oil finds.
“Israel is looking for peaceful cooperation which will be for the benefit of the people of both countries and for the region,” Netanyahu told journalists in Nicosia, adding that both Israel and Cyprus were committed to expanding energy cooperation.
Ankara says the Greek Cypriots, who represent the internationally recognized government of Cyprus, have no jurisdiction to search for offshore oil and gas. It has said it will carry out its own exploration off northern Cyprus with the Turkish Cypriot authorities.
Gas production is set to increase in the eastern Mediterranean following the discovery of considerable quantities of offshore reserves that have sparked competing maritime claims involving Turkey, Cyprus, Israel and Lebanon.
Cyprus has accused neighboring Turkey of using bullying behavior over the recent gas finds, calling on the European Union to intervene. Ankara has said it will use all means necessary to stop oil and gas exploration in its exclusive economic zone.
Earlier this week, the Greek Cypriots launched a second licensing round for offshore exploratory drilling, hoping that potential fossil fuel deposit discoveries would boost the eurozone country's sagging economy.
U.S. company Noble Energy began exploratory drilling last year in Block 12, the most south-eastern section of the Cypriot economic zone that sits close to a huge Israeli gas field.
Cyprus was split into an internationally recognized Greek-speaking south and a Turkish-speaking north in 1974, when Turkey invaded the island in response to a short-lived coup by supporters of a union with Greece.