The Eastern Mediterranean has recently occupied a large place in the world agenda. In addition to the developments related to the energy resources, Turkey’s latest confrontation with France and Greece and direct involvement of EU to the problem have contributed the increasing importance of the region.
While a number of companies are already producing natural gas in in Egypt’s and Israel’s offshore fields, this is not the case for other littoral states namely Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, South Cypriot Greek Administration and the Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic (TRNC). As a matter of fact, it is necessary to pay attention to the 3P (proven / probable / potential) category, which is frequently used in the energy industry regarding hydrocarbon resources; because those that fall outside the proven category contain plenty of speculation and there is not such a big gas discovery in other countries yet.
Another debate regarding the energy is that how the natural gas will be exported (if possible) from the region whether to Turkey or to Europe. The first option that comes to mind is pipelines. High pressure pipelines are actually quite costly, political projects, and considering the situation mentioned, realization of the speculated projects are not feasible. Whether through Turkey or via a longer and more expensive route “East-Med” pipeline, planned through Greece and Italy, are unrealistic taking into consideration of the current insufficient gas demand and low prices in the markets.
All these show that one point needs to be understood: The energy debates regarding the region actually function as tools for major geopolitical purposes! While it seems clear that the issue is above all a sovereignty problem, the issue of maritime jurisdictions comes to the fore here. In particular, the debates and claims on Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) are keeping up to date. With the support of the EU, the Greek Cypriots have already declared an EEZ thanks to the delimitation agreements with other riparian states such as Egypt and Israel. On the other hand, conducting active diplomacy with various states, Greece is aiming to take about 100 thousand of square kilometers from Turkey’s sea area in the Eastern Mediterranean by showing small Meis island as a pretext.
Apart from the position of the countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, the region is also of increasing geopolitical importance for world politics. The region is in the key for the 21st century maritime silk road that China has developed, because Greece’s Piraeus Port is the destination point of this Chinese initiative. At the same time, the US, which had previously pursued a strategy of containing Russia over the Black Sea and the Turkish Straits, now desires to do this in the Eastern Mediterranean over the Souda Bay on the Greek island of Crete. It does not seem coincidental that the region is surrounded by warships and bases of various countries. As a matter of fact, regular military exercises are conducted by different countries in the region one after another. In addition, by revitalizing the Ankara’s historical Aegean problems with Athens, the US and France intend to contain Turkey in its immediate neighbourhood. For this purpose, now a Cairo based international organization the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) is founded by excluding Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Libya as well. On the other hand, Ankara has not yet declared an EEZ in the Mediterranean. Not being announced yet, of course, does not mean losing the right. However, in our opinion, Ankara should review its policy in this direction.
By arming the islands closed to Turkey, the Greek side violates the Lausanne agreement. Moreover, with the support of France the Athens engages in military provocations against Ankara and ahead of the EU summit at the beginning of October, Turkey is tacitly threatened with sanctions. The extent to which Ankara, which is wanted to be squeezed by its economic situation, will stand behind its right claims raises a question mark. Some claim that in order to avoid the serious sanctions, Turkey sits on the negotiation table with Greece and stops the active duty of the Oruc Reis seismic exploration ship. Although serious sanctions against Turkey form the EU summit is highly unlikely, it is understood that Germany, the main owner of the EU, plays a key role here. Thanks to the Customs Union with Turkey, Brussels has anchored Ankara economically to itself and it is understood that Germany is lobbying for the maintaining current relationship with Turkey.
On the other hand, Turkey needs to adopt a stable and active policy for her national interests in the Eastern Mediterranean and develop new initiatives. For example, together with the countries excluded from the EMGF, Ankara could take the leading role for establishment of the Eastern Mediterranean Energy Forum as a counter balancing organization. For this, peace with Syria is of course a prerequisite. In addition, taking into account that international conditions have changed, after the presidential elections in the TRNC Ankara should accelerate the integration process with the Turkish Cypriots. In a broader context, as its access point to the international waters, strategic importance of the Eastern Mediterranean should be underlined by Turkey. For this, instead of seeking the solution in the Federation form, it is necessary to increase the emphasis on two states reality in the Cyprus without making the slightest concession from the position achieved in Cyprus by a successful military operation in 1974.
Apart from all those, during decades Turkey did not conduct many deep-sea exploration and discovery activities in its sea basins, but it is also true that it has changed its mind by buying new seismic and drilling vessels in recent years and adopted an active policy in this regard. Furthermore, after the maritime authorization agreement had signed with Libya, Ankara officially declared its Continental Shelf to the United Nations in early 2020. Now it is obligatory for Ankara to declare a new “navtex” up to the 26th longitude and send the Oruç Reis seismic ship to this area within the framework of its already declared Continental Shelf.
Even if a single cubic meter of gas not discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey’s national interests in the region is extremely sensitive and must be kept in the forefront of the geopolitical outlook despite the economic difficulties. Ultimately, the economic difficulties could be overcome, but there is no compensation for geopolitical mistakes. The upcoming period will show whether government in Ankara, which currently prefers the continuation of the status quo in its relations with the EU, will successfully pass the challenging Eastern Mediterranean exam.