Determined to consolidate its influence in the eastern Mediterranean, where hydrocarbon resources are fueling tensions, Turkey could increase pressure on Cyprus, which it considers as the weak link in a regional alliance opposed to Ankara's ambitions, analysts say. .
The stiffening between Ankara and Nicosia comes at a time when Turkey is increasing the show of force on each shore of the Mediterranean, blowing hot and cold in the conflicts in Syria and Libya.
Faced with Ankara's claims over the region's energy deposits, Cyprus, Greece and Israel signed an agreement on the EastMed gas pipeline in early January.
And the tensions caused by the discovery in recent years of gigantic gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean are particularly acute between Turkey and Cyprus, the northern third of which has been occupied by the Turkish army since 1974.
If Turkish military action against the neighboring island is unlikely, analysts say, Ankara could seek to increase pressure on Nicosia to dissuade it from continuing its exploration of hydrocarbons.
"Turkey will not back down because it has become a matter of national prestige," said Hubert Faustmann, professor at the University of Nicosia and director of the Cypriot branch of the German Friedrich-Ebert foundation.
According to him, Ankara "will not lose this confrontation because it is ready to go further than all the other countries".
- "Ability to sabotage" -
In late November, Turkey notably signed a controversial maritime delimitation agreement with the Government of Libyan National Union (GNA), with the aim of asserting its rights over large areas in the eastern Mediterranean.
This agreement, as well as a military cooperation agreement between Tripoli and Turkey, has been deemed "null and void" by Cyprus, Egypt, France and Greece.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on January 16 that his country would start "as soon as possible" to drill in these disputed and oil-rich areas.
According to him, the Turkish-Libyan agreement should at least delay the construction of the EastMed pipeline, because it is supposed to cross maritime areas claimed by Ankara.
"The gas pipeline will in all likelihood never see the light of day", estimates Mr. Faustmann, according to which "the irony is that the best outlet for Cypriot gas" would be "its export to Turkey".
- Not expensive, but effective -
EastMed's objective is to make Cyprus, Israel and Greece an important link in the energy supply chain of Europe.
But "by increasing the pressure" on Cyprus, "Turkey keeps the key to the future of EastMed," confirms Cyril Widdershoven, energy analyst and founder of the consulting firm Verocy.
Turkey "can block any agreement currently in force on offshore exploitation" by increasing its military, naval or air presence in North Cyprus (TRNC, recognized only by Ankara), he continues.
"Such decisions are not really expensive", but effective, according to him.
Turkey is opposed to any exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons which would exclude the northern third of the island, where the Turkish Cypriots live.
In recent months, Ankara has sent drilling ships off Cyprus, despite warnings from Washington and the European Union (EU), of which Nicosia is a member. In December, it also deployed a first armed drone in Northern Cyprus and, according to Turkish media, plans to build a naval base there.
In early November, the EU took a further step towards imposing sanctions against Turkey for its illegal drilling, by formally adopting a legal framework to target the people or entities involved.
However, according to Charles Ellinas, an expert at the Atlantic Council think tank, the situation is not likely to degenerate into a military confrontation.
"Turkey will not go so far as to initiate military action in Cyprus, it has nothing to gain from it," he said. "So far, it has achieved its ends without it."
© 2020 AFP