IAF Drills off Cyprus Coast Raises Turkey’s Ire

Yesterday, Turkey attacked Israeli plans to hold a benign annual military exercise in Cyprus, calling the move an attempt to “send a message” to Ankara.

On Saturday, Israel announced that it would proceed with its plans to hold an IAF exercise in Cypriot airspace, with IDF spokespeople describing it as a “routine exercise between allies with no political agenda”.  Israel routinely holds military exercises in the air and on land with its allies as well as aerial drills in its allies’ airspace, which up until recently included Turkey.

Turkish officials issued a statement condemning the planned exercise.  According to them, the exercise is a “menacing message” to the Ankara government.  Turkey and Cyprus have been locked in a land dispute over Northern Cyprus for the last half century with Turkey claiming the region as its own.

Since the 2010 flotilla and Mavi Marmara incident, Israel and Turkey have had a cold relationship with all ties being severed in September of this year in the wake of the Palmer Report which laid the blame for the flotilla squarely on Turkey and exonerated Israel from any wrongdoing.  The severing of ties has led to a war of rhetoric between the two nations, with Turkey taking an increasingly aggressive stance.  The aggressive rhetoric reached a new level last month when Cyprus and Israel signed a treaty regarding gas drilling with Turkey threatening military action in response unless the operation cease until the various land disputes in the Middle East are solved..  Those threats were diffused by the US since an American company is running Cyprus’ gas drilling operation.

The international community has responded by attempting to calm the Turkish government once again. However, it should be noted that the United States, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Israel and other countries have sent ships to the eastern Mediterranean Sea in the past as well as recently for patrolling purposes.

Cyprus denied any involvement with the exercises, with the Defense Ministry spokesman saying the country is not participating.  However, Cyprus has reported Turkey to the EU and NATO since a Turkish ship entered Cyprus’ maritime border last week and has refused to leave ever since.