Full speed ahead for the acquisition of two offshore vessels by the Republic of Cyprus
By Pantelis Diomidous
Exactly one year after the unfortunate and unjustified rejection by the House of a very important agreement for the purchase from Israel of two missile-bearing warships, for EUR 100 million, which if anything would have acted as a statement that Cyprus can safeguard its sovereign rights within its EEZ, the government of Nicos Anastasiades is bringing the issue back and is ready to strengthen the defensive shield of the country.
Revelations from the Foreign Ministry
The newspaper MAXH, for the last two months, has been reporting the backroom consultations that have been taking place in the Defence Ministry, for the purchase of warships, based on its sources in the Ministry of Commerce, which appeared alarmed, because basically instead of the Republic of Cyprus informing the research companies of the turkish provocations, it is happening the other way around.
Last Thursday, Defence Minister Christopher Fokaidis, in the framework of the behind closed doors highly secret Defence budget for 2015, informed the MPs of the State Defence Commission that the Republic has initiated the process for the purchase of warships that will enhance the naval presence of the National Guard in the EEZ. In the budget, according to information of MAXI, is a special budget – not the entire amount that will be required – which will be used as an advance if and when the deal closes.
The Minister of Defence did not get into details on the plans of Nicosia, wanting to, at least at present time, to keep the tension levels low. However, according to information, discussions are at a very advanced level and it is almost certain that the Republic will choose the path of an interstate agreement – most possibly with Israel – despite the alternative to initiate an international tender.
The choice of the supplier of the vessels will obviously be made, said to MAXH sources of the Presidential Mansion, in light of the strategic partnership between the two countries and taking into consideration that Nicosia and Tel Aviv had signed a very specific agreement for the two warships two years ago, which despite being rejected at the time – for political purposes by the House – was approved by the current Cabinet of the Anastasiades government.
“In the environment we experience today with the Turkish provocations, and given that our effort to strengthen our cooperation with friendly neighboring countries, it would be an act of political suicide to choose a supplier other than Israel”, stated in MAXH a daily source of the Presidential Palace who is knowledgeable of the developments.
Anastasiades’ visit to Israel
According to related verified information, the political intent of Nicosia coming from the mouth of the competent Minister of Defence is not and cannot be considered irrelevant to the upcoming official visit (the second during his time in office) of President Nicos Anastasiades to Israel. So, according to government sources, the meeting of President Anastasiades with Benjamin Netanyahu, on December 2 in Jerusalem, may bring important developments to the issue of the strengthening of the defensive shield, with the signing of a very important agreement, indicating that Israel is ready to return to the canceled agreement aimed this time to a positive conclusion.
The conclusion, however, from the briefing of the Defence Committee of the House by Mr. Fokaidis, is that there is a widespread interest from various countries to supply the Republic with the necessary, in the circumstances of energy developments, warships. According to the Defence Minister, who incidentally did not mention names, there is interest from European countries. Exploring these references the newspaper MAXH is in a position to know that both France and Greece have long expressed interest to supply Cyprus with offshore vessels. The interest of France is perfectly interwoven and intertwined with the presence in the coming months in the Cyprus EEZ of the French TOTAL.
As for Greece, obsolete and off-specification offshore vessels, which were the subject of discussions between Athens and Nicosia, already belong to the past.
However, although France’s interest particularly honors the Republic, it seems unlikely to proceed any further, since as was mentioned above, Israel has a clear lead for political and reliability reasons. This, moreover, according to information from MAXH, is the personal view of the President of the Republic. As things stand, however, sources from the Defence Ministry reiterated that “we will take the appropriate decisions under the circumstances”, explaining, however, that they should be such as not to create bad feelings in any country.
Totally reliable information of MAXI indicate that positive in the potential acquisition of ships from Israel, is the Democratic Rally Party, which in December 2013 was the main party that opposed the acquisition of the warships. The same sources say that if the government of the Republic proceeded to an agreement with Israel, DISY would support the decision in Parliament and would vote for the release of the extraordinary budget, on the understanding that the repayment terms are favorable for Cyprus.
As part of the ongoing challenges, the National Guard will be greatly enhanced with other defensive agreements. Specifically, as was stated in the Defence Committee of the House, Nicosia intention is to upgrade as complete as possible the defence and other agreements both with countries in the region and beyond. Therefore, Mr. Fokaidis reportedly told MPs that in addition to upgrading the agreements with Israel and Egypt, there will be an upgrade of Cyprus’ agreement with Lebanon, but mainly with France. The latter has an agreement with the Republic of Cyprus since the Presidency of Tasos Papadopoulos. That agreement was upgraded once, and now a new upgrade is imminent in light of the turkish threats. Additionally, the visit of the President of the Republic to Moscow cannot be accidental.
Cyprus is also considering the acquisition of UAVs
At the same time, information of MAXH within the Ministry of Defence say that Nicosia also examines the possibility of the acquisition of unmanned aircrafts (UAV), for monitoring both the EEZ and the cease-fire zone. Something that if it is finally implemented (There are many doubts, since this is being said and written for at least two years now.) will be a tremendous boost to the defensive capabilities of the National Guard and therefore will strengthen the sovereignty of the Republic.
Confrontation line surveillance systems
At the same time, there seems to be taking shape, after years of examination, the acquisition of the confrontation line surveillance systems. Information of MAXH reveal that the program is part of the broader context of restructuring and modernisation of the National Guard, which involves the reduction of guard posts and units that are now monitoring the cease-fire line and the buffer zone.
The Troika adversely affected the Defence
However, the meeting of the Defence Committee – which will continue and will end on November 28 – also had negative reports. Specifically, it was adversely commented that the Defence budget is only EUR 69 million. An amount that causes concerns and which is the result of austerity imposed by the Troika as a result of the economic crisis that has hit the Republic. The EUR 69 million is only a part of the total budget of EUR 318 million of the Defence Ministry, a big part of which, however, is absorbed from the operating expenses that have to do with the salaries of the military personnel.