Cyprus has acquired four Israeli-made drones, according to its defense ministry, amid tensions with Turkey over gas exploration in the island’s waters.

Kathimerini Cyprus website said the drones, bought at a cost of $13 million in a first for the country, will be used to monitor its exclusive economic zone where international energy companies are searching for natural gas despite opposition from Turkey.

Israel’s Aeronautics, which makes the Aerostar Tactical UAS (TUAS), a drone with a wingspan of 8.7 meters (28 feet), contacted by AFP, would not confirm the sale, citing company policy to not divulge the identity of clients.

EU member Cyprus last week accused Turkey of defying the bloc by sending another drilling ship to operate inside its waters.

Nicosia said Turkey sent the drill ship Yavuz inside block 7 of its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, a zone licensed to Italy’s Eni and France’s Total in an agreement signed last month.

According to the Cyprus government, the area where the Turkish vessel is operating is clearly defined under international law as Cypriot territorial waters. Israel has backed Cyprus in the dispute.

Washington and Brussels have urged Turkey to withdraw the vessels from Cypriot waters, with the EU imposing sanctions on Ankara.

Turkey, which has now sent three drill ships off Cyprus, is opposed to Nicosia’s energy exploration plans and wants a say in the development of hydrocarbons in the region.

The nation of Cyprus deployed drones to monitor Turkish attempts to drill for natural gas in waters claimed by the divided nation. Turkey’s action added to the tension in a region already roiling from the migrant problem, the recent Turkish invasion of Syria, and the overall Middle East uncertainty.

To understand the move by Cyprus, we must start with the fact that Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and divided the island in half. Populated mostly by residents of Greek and Turkish ancestry, the island long had been dominated by the more populous Greeks. Most of the island nation, excluding the northern part described below, calls itself the Republic of Cyprus.

Since 1974, Turkey has occupied the northern part of the island, setting up its own rump state called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or Northern Cyprus for short. Northern Cyprus is recognized as an independent country by only one nation – Turkey. The Republic of Cyprus continues to declare sovereignty over the disputed north.

The Turkish occupation of the northern half of Cyprus has long been an open sore in the permanently problematic relationship between Greece and Turkey, to say nothing of the internationally recognized nation of Cyprus. Since 2004, Cyprus has been a member of the European Union as a “de facto divided island.” The EU’s official position is that it “fully supports the current negotiations between the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities which aim to reach a comprehensive settlement leading to the reunification of the island and establish a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation in which the communities would enjoy political equality.”

Sources: Times of Israel;  Forbes

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