Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

Decision imminent on whether to buy two Israeli gunboats

Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Issues and Overseas Affairs Fotis Fotiou

By Elias Hazou

THE GOVERNMENT decides tomorrow on whether to go ahead with the purchase from Israel of two naval craft with combat capability.

“A decision will be taken at the Cabinet meeting,” defence minister Fotis Fotiou said last night. The Cabinet was initially due to meet Wednesday, but the session was deferred by a day.

Fotiou declined to elaborate, except to say that talks have been ongoing for some time with the Israelis on the purchase of two Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs).

The two OPVs, manufactured by Israel Shipyards Ltd, reportedly carry a combined price tag of €100m, with the Israelis asking for half that amount upfront by the end of the year.

That leaves little time for the government to make up its mind and also figure out where to get the cash immediately, before the Treasury closes for the holidays. The matter will then go before the House defence committee, which approves all defence appropriations and must give the nod for the disbursement of funds.

That could get tricky, as opposition AKEL have indicated they will oppose releasing the funds unless the issue is discussed in tandem with the repair of the National Guard’s Russian-made Mi-35 attack helicopters.

Reports over the weekend suggested the acquisition of the Israeli boats was all but a done deal, following months of negotiations between the two sides. If and when a deal is signed, it would be an intergovernmental agreement between Cyprus and Israel.

According to the same reports, in exchange for ceding a longer warranty period and equipment upgrades, the Israelis have asked Cyprus to pay €50m upfront. The rest of the money would be paid on delivery – within two years for the first craft and a year later for the second vessel.

It’s understood that the Cypriots want the craft to have missile capability, a feature raising the cost by another €20m per vessel. The missile upgrade would come at a later date.

The OPV featured on Israel Shipyards’ website notes that it can be fitted with missiles. The weapon-carrying, ‘combat proven’ OPV performs a wide range of coastal defence, security and law-enforcement missions, including open sea patrol and surveillance, interception of terrorist, smuggling or illegal activities and protection of offshore facilities.

It is this latter capability which seems to interest Cyprus in particular, in relation to patrolling the waters in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

This summer the Turkish navy made at least one incursion into the EEZ, on one occasion harassing an Italian-flagged research vessel conducting depth soundings off the Paphos coast. More recently, a

Turkish research vessel, the ‘RV Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa’, waded into Cyprus’ EEZ to the north and northeast of the island.

Turkey has signed a ‘continental shelf delineation agreement’ with the breakaway regime in a purported effort to protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the island’s natural resources,.

Maps published in Turkey’s official gazette show that oil drilling permits issued to TPAO, Turkey’s national oil and gas company, stretch as far as the Greek island of Rhodes as well as blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 in Cyprus’ EEZ, south and south-west of the island.

Turkey demands that Cyprus cease hydrocarbon explorations pending reunification talks and has previously said it would take measures to protect its interests.

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