Turkey has covertly transported 42 German Leopard-2A4 tanks to Değirmenlik a small town in North Cyprus just 10 kilometres from the capital Nicosia, Greek website ‘To Vima’ has reported.
Turkey deployed the tanks and ammunition belonging to its First Army using two cargo ships that set sail from the north-western province of Edirne, near its border with Greece, ‘To Vima’ said in a report this week that was cited by other Greek media on Thursday.
The transfer took place despite the US Congress and the German government banning the transfer to Cyprus of weapons systems that they have manufactured, according to the news site.
‘To Vima’ said the move meant that a third party, Turkey, would be using European-made armaments in an occupied EU territory.
Tensions between Turkey and Cyprus have intensified in the past few months over exploration for natural gas in the east Mediterranean. Turkey has sent two drillships to seas off Cyprus after the EU member began its own exploration. South Nicosia responded by seeking the backing of other EU countries against what it terms illegal Turkish activities.
Turkey says Turkish Cypriots, whose fledgling state is only recognised by Ankara after a Turkish invasion in 1974, should also get a share in the revenues from discoveries of offshore gas.
Turkey’s dispatch last week of a second drill ship, the ‘Yavuz’, to waters east of Cyprus has upped the ante in an increasingly fraught dispute over energy rights near the island.
With the ‘Yavuz’ arriving in the area, and Turkey’s first drillship, the ‘Fatih’, already conducting research operations nearby, the waters off Cyprus are dotted with Turkish ships, from research vessels to the warships defending them. This has not gone unnoticed by South Cyprus and its allies.
The stark display of military power near the island, and the seemingly intractable nature of the disagreement, has led to fears that conflict is close at hand.
“I think there’s a lot in place to keep that dispute from devolving into armed conflict, for example, NATO being an important factor,” said Sim Tack, an analyst at Stratfor and Force Analysis.
“But there is of course always a chance for miscalculations when tensions run high,” he added. “Let me put it this way, if there were to be armed incidents, I believe those same structures would help keep it at a minimum in terms of scale and duration.”