With a treasure trove of hydrocarbon reserves thought to lie beneath the sea, the stakes are high: the winner could emerge as an energy broker in charge of Europe's gas supplies for decades to come.
"If the findings are as big as they say then the power political parameters of the region will shift," said Hubert Faustmann, a political science professor at the University of Nicosia in Cyprus.
"We're talking about trillions of cubic metres of hydrocarbons worth billions of dollars."
The row erupted after the divided Mediterranean island instructed a US company, Noble Energy, to begin drilling off its southern shores last month.
It escalated last week after Turkey responded by deploying a seismic research vessel to the same offshore zone with an escort of gunboats.
On Thursday Israel, which has initiated a similar search in its own mineral-rich territorial waters, scrambled F-15 fighter jets to buzz the Turkish ship, according to media reports in Ankara.
Turkey reacted by sending two F-16 planes to chase the aircraft away – heightening tensions between two erstwhile allies whose relations have become increasingly strained since Israel staged a deadly attack on a Turkish aid flotilla bound for Gaza last year.