As Israel began drilling for natural gas Monday in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey announced that it, too, may soon begin a deep-sea search for oil and gas, off the coast of northern Cyprus. 

Israel began exploratory drilling in Block 12 of the Tamar natural gas field, 50 miles off the Haifa coast. “Block 12” is an area that extends into Cypriot territorial waters.

Cyprus Energy Service director Solon Kassinis confirmed to Reuters that the preliminary drilling had indeed begun, and is expected to last 73 days.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the comment Monday in response to questions by reporters durign a news conference in which he condemned the exploration for gas by Cyprus off its southern coast.

Turkey's Energy Minister, Taner Yildiz, described the drilling as a “provocation.” He called on “Greek Cypriots to halt immediately the work with Noble [Energy],” which owns the Tamar field together with Delek Group, Delek Drilling and Avner Oil and Gas.

The group has agreed to a 30 percent stake in Block 12, and is awaiting a permit from the Cypriot government.

Yildiz threatened that Turkey would begin its own gas and own exploratory drilling as early as next week, off the northern coast of the island under the Turkish Cypriot administration, if drilling by Cyprus did not stop.

“We can say that Turkish naval ships may escort Turkish seismic survey ships doing exploration in the Mediterranean Sea,” he added. “Oil exploration platforms would follow, but we don't want it to come to that.”

The European Union, meanwhile, has supported the Cypriot project, and warned Turkey to stop threatening its neighbor. The slap on the wrist comes after years of attempts by Ankara to persuade the European Union to admit Turkey to its ranks.

It also follows a stream of bellicose threats by Erdogan against Israel, the most recent warning that Turkish warships could be sent to prevent Israel from moving freely in the eastern Mediterranean “at any time.”

Israel's security cabinet has decided, however, not to respond to the repeated verbal attacks by the Turkish leader, in hopes the inflamed diplomatic situation will not escalate further.