According to the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, yesterday’s reports by Turkish media that fighter jets from both Israel and Turkey took to the air on Friday over a disputed natural gas field south of Cyprus, are entirely baseless.
The Turkish tabloid Vatan reported yesterday that Israeli air force F-15 fighter jets were crossing the air space of Turkish North-Cyprus to face the Turkish ship PIRI RAIS off the coast of Cyprus on Thursday night. Vatan also claimed that an Israeli air force helicopter hovered over the Turkish ship, reportedly a survey vessel, while over the ‘Aphrodite’ gas field, south of the island.
Israeli media quoted the report yesterday, commenting that this could be considered a further deterioration in the already strained relationship between Turkey and Israel.
But as it turns out, the incident might not have happened at all. The Turkish Today’s Zaman published an article yesterday, citing a source from within the Turkish General Staff as saying, that the reports “do not reflect the truth.”
The story, obviously based on hearsay and second-hand sources, was then written and published by Vatan without even checking the most basic details. A simple research shows, that the PIRI RAIS, a dredger of 32 meters length-over-all and a recorded average speed of only 7.8 knots (14.4 kph), was still reported to be in Istanbul port Wednesday at 23:00 hrs. The data, provided by the marine information service Maritime Traffic, are open to everyone. Given the distance (roughly 700 nautical miles/1,300 km) and the speed of the ship, the trip from Istanbul to Cyprus would take the PIRI RAIS more than three days.
UPDATE: The vessel in question is the RV KOCA PIRI REIS, IMO 7614783, launched by Schiffswerft Diedrich in Germany, June 1978.
The story might just be dismissed as another example of sloppy journalism and sensationalist reporting, would the situation not be as tense as it is. For the sakes of getting readers/viewers some media pull out all the stops (and the Vatan is one of the worst examples).
In fact, the dispute over the natural gas fields between the coasts of Cyprus, Israel and Lebanon is already heated enough without any additional fueling. The gas reserves in the area amount to an estimated volume of 3.5 trillion cubic meters, more than anywhere else in the Mediterranean.
Turkey opposes gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, claiming it has rights in the region as the biggest coastal state. Turkey wants the Turkish part of Cyprus to be involved in the exploration of all natural resources, a request the universally recognized government of Greek Cyprus firmly denies.
With a recent Turkish threat that navy ships will escort its exploration vessels and attempts to strong-arm Israel into an apology and compensation payments over the row about the Gaza Fleet 2010 incident, there is no need to pour even more oil into the fire.