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Italian multi-purpose frigate. Wikipedia

Italian navy spotted off the coast of Cyprus as tensions rise

The Italian Navy has been sailing in the waters of Cyprus. After a stop in Larnaca, the missile frigate Federico Martinengo will carry out a Passex-type exercise in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean to cement relations with the fleets of France and Cyprus.

Published: December 13, 2019, 7:55 am

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    A passing exercise (a PASSEX in US Navy terminology) is an exercise done between two navies to ensure that the navies are able to communicate and cooperate in times of war or humanitarian relief. Common drills include flashing light drills, semaphore drills, and flag hoist drills.

    Essential partners for the Italian Mediterranean strategy, especially in a sector as fundamental as that of the eastern Mediterranean region, where energy resources are an essential key to understanding the delicate geopolitical balance of the region and in which Italy is directly involved both for Eni’s explorations and for agreements on future gas pipelines that will cross there.

    The exercise “Cyp/Fra/It 2019” , which takes place in the waters of the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone, is an important signal. Italy is there and has “warned” the regional powers of its presence, especially at a time when Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey appears to be less and less interested in respecting international agreements, particularly in those waters in front of Cyprus and where Eni is involved.

    And above all, at a time when relations between Tripoli and Ankara is jeopardizing the stability of the entire Mediterranean basin. The Libyan government of Fayez al Serraj, signing the memorandum of understanding with the Turkish government, caused a substantial change in the strategic structures of the central and eastern Mediterranean.

    Greece has already condemned the Tripoli decision, and Cyprus is worried by the idea that Ankara continues to eye areas that belong to the island’s government and is seen as being strictly sovereign, while Europe remains silent.

    Italy is in an extremely delicate position. Eni operates in those waters, and already last year President Erdogan thundered against Italian activities blocking the ship Saipem 12000, while in Libya it supported Serraj for years.

    Turkey is however finding itself more and more marginalized thanks also to the continuous Turkish penetration in the area beyond the fragile control of the Tripoli government.

    France, on the other hand, has long set its sights on Cyprus: at first it did so with an agreement for a military base for its fleet on the island. Now the renewed axis with Nicosia means that Paris has issued a warning to Erdogan that, in Libya, he is on the opposite side, siding more or less openly with Khalifa Haftar.

    The patrol of the Cyprus waters together with the Cypriot and French navies is integrated in the framework of Italian Naval Diplomacy policies, which is an essential tool for Italy to strengthen strategic partnerships.

    Most of the energy and commercial resources that come to Italy do so across the Mediterranean. And it is also for this reason that Italy initiated these exercises: not only to confirm its presence in the Mare Nostrum, but also to reiterate that the Navy could play an essential role.

    As explained by the statement, Italy wishes to defend its “national interests”. Interests that – it is obvious – are seriously endangered by Turkish maneuvers in the area.

    Sending oil drilling vessels into the waters of Cyprus, with the agreement for Libyan waters, and with a growing presence in Tripoli (political, intelligence, but also, as recently confirmed, military), Turkey is “surrounding” Rome and Italian strategic interests.

    Obviously the exercise has been planned for a long time: well before Erdogan decided to sign the agreement with Serraj and even before the news from Libya sparked concerns over a presence in the ranks of Serraj’s army.

    The situation remains tense and these maneuvers, carried out with the French Marine Nationale and with the Cypriot fleet, clearly take on a strict meaning: to remember that Rome has, like all its partners and rivals of the Mediterranean, interests to be protected also through the instrument of the Navy.

    Greece has been publishing photos of hunting Turkish frigates, France courts Cyprus with a naval base and Libya is on the verge of imploding once again. In this context, the Italians believe their presence in those waters and curbing Turkish ambitions have become necessary.

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    • LuciusAnnaeusSeneca

      Very good coverage of an issue that is generally off the front page of the news but which has the potential to quickly develop into a crisis if Turkey is not contained in its ambitions in Cypriot waters. Turkish actions there, as well as Erdogan’s recent effort, in collaboration with the Serraj government in Libya, to stake extensive claims to eastern Mediterranean waters, has the potential to escalate into a confrontation between its forces and those of other NATO members who find its behavior unacceptable.

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