Natural gas finds pushing U.S. allies towards open confrontation
Competition for natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean is pushing U.S. partners and allies towards open confrontation, the Wall Street Journal reported.
A developing alliance between Israel, Greece and Egypt, the beneficiaries of the finds, is squaring off against Turkey, which is flexing its military muscles as it seeks to break its isolation in the region, the Journal said on Sunday.
A latest bout of political and military tensions in the Mediterranean broke out on July 21, when Turkey said one of its two new seismic survey ships would explore for oil and gas off a Greek island adjacent to Turkey. That prompted a diplomatic intervention from Germany and Turkey agreed to stand down.
But the lull in hostilities appears to be only a pause and tensions are likely to keep escalating, posing a significant new challenge in an already volatile region of the world, the Journal said.
“We see a tendency by Turkey to follow gunboat diplomacy and a militarisation of its foreign policy,” Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said in an interview, according to the newspaper. “It is an attempt by Turkey to control the region.”
Turkey, for its part, says that Greece and Cyprus have provoked the standoff through their “maximalist policies” on claims to the Mediterranean’s waters, where Greek islands nestle close to the Turkish coast.
Meanwhile, Cyprus remains divided between a Greek Cypriot south, which is a member of the European Union, and a Turkish Cypriot north, whose government is recognised only by Turkey. Ankara says it has the right to explore for minerals around Cyprus and has slammed Cyprus for failing to provide Turkish Cypriots with a share of future mineral wealth.
“If you look at the map, you see that we have the longest coast in the Eastern Mediterranean and we have a huge continental shelf area,” a senior Turkish official said, according to the Journal. “Real cooperation can only be made with the involvement of Turkey.”
Turkey is also using a maritime accord signed with the United Nations-recognised government in Tripoli, Libya, as a legal basis for exploring for oil and natural gas across the Mediterranean Sea, much to the ire of Egypt, Israel and Greece, who point out that Libya is war-torn, divided and not in a position to make such deals.
The three countries are planning the EastMed gas pipeline to carry natural gas to Europe, but Turkey’s recent maritime claims cross the route.
The U.S. State Department has called the Libyan agreement “provocative”. The Trump Administration is considering lifting an arms embargo on Cyprus, in place since Turkey invaded the northern third of the island in 1974 in response to a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at uniting the island with mainland Greece.
Turkey’s claims on the Mediterranean defy international convention on the law of the sea and violate Greek sovereign rights and interests, Greece says.
“Therefore, the possibility of military conflict is real, and Greece is fully prepared,” said Thanos Dokos, Greece’s deputy national security adviser.