Israel is preparing to increase its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean to protect its natural gas exploration activities, which have been a source of tension between Israel and Turkey.
According to a plan approved by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the chief of staff, Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel will buy four new combat vessels for its navy, assign more troops [to the area] and deploy unmanned aerial vehicles for patrols in the region.
The objective of the $1 billion plan is to protect Israel’s natural gas platforms in the eastern Mediterranean from terrorist attacks.
Gas Platforms in International Waters
Some of the platforms owned by private companies are 360 kilometers off of Israel’s coast. Israel has been carrying out limited patrols in this region using five naval vessels. The naval mission will be enlarged in 2013 after the platforms begin extracting gas.
Adm. Ram Rotberg, the commander of the Israeli Navy, told journalists: ”After the discovery of the gas reserves, our army and navy have been tasked with protection duty. Both branches need to be reinforced in order to operate in such a region.”
Conflict with Turkey
Israel’s exploitation of rich natural gas reserves off the coast of Greek Cyprus has led to tension with Turkey. When Turkey responded by dispatching exploration and combat ships to the region, this tension escalated sharply.
Israel is engaged with another conflict with Lebanon over this issue, as there is no agreed upon maritime boundaries between the two countries.
Turkey is closely monitoring Israel’s improving relations with the Greek Cypriot administration in the military sphere.