Turkish media reports claim Israeli F-15s approached Turkish research vessel near contested Cyprus drilling area.
Israel Defense Forces jet fighters were scrambled toward a Turkish seismic research ship in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkish media reported on Friday, in what seemed to be a further escalation in the already fraying ties between the once longtime allies.
According to the report, cited by the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman and based on a report by the Turkish Vatan daily, two Israel Air Force F-15s took off to face the Turkish vessel on Thursday night, flying through the airspace of both Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus.
The report added that the warplanes approached the Turkish ship despite incessant warnings by forces in Turkish Cyprus, according to which the planes had breached the territory’s airspace.
Ultimately, the report indicated, Turkey launched two F-16 fighters to track the Israeli planes, at which point the IAF fighter jets returned to Israeli airspace.
In addition, the report claimed that an IAF helicopter hovered over the ship, Piri Reis, while the ship was in the Aphrodite gas field off Cyprus’ southern coast and near to the larger Leviathan natural gas field.
The reported incident took place as Israel-Turkey ties continued to deteriorate over Israel’s refusal to apologize for its 2010 raid of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla which resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish nationals.
A recent inflammation in tensions came amid controversy over drilling rights in what could be natural gas-rich areas in the Eastern Mediterranean.
On Tuesday, Turkey said it was exploring for gas in an offshore zone where Cyprus started drilling last week, a provocative step in a dispute over Mediterranean resources.
Last week, Turkey and Turkish Cyprus signed a pact outlining maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, paving the way for gas exploration. Turkey said it would protect any research vessel with warships, raising the prospect of an armed stand-off.
On September 23, Turkey dispatched its only research vessel, the Piri Reis, to the eastern Mediterranean.
“Piri Reis, escorted by warships, has started research in the same area where Greek Cypriots are exploring,” Omer Celik, Vice Chairman of the ruling AK Party who oversees foreign affairs, said on Twitter.
“We have shown clearly to everyone that we will not allow the eastern Mediterranean to become a Greek Cyprus-Israel goal,” he said in another message.