OPINION

Likely scenarios for the Eastern Mediterranean

Turkey?s political objective is to regain lost ground following its poor reaction to the popular uprisings in Libya and Syria and, taking advantage of the Arab Spring momentum, to establish a zone of influence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Its ultimate ambition is to establish itself as a hegemon in the Middle Eastern region.

In order to achieve this goal, Ankara believes it has to pit itself against Israel. Meanwhile, Turkey is trying to halt the geopolitical and economic advances of the Cyprus Republic (emanating from its transformation into an energy hub) and any future attempts by Greece to raise the question of an exclusive economic zone in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Matters are further complicated by the campaign to recognize a Palestinian state, the dynamics of Israeli-Egyptian ties, and tension between Tehran and Ankara over the deployment of NATO?s early-warning radar system in Turkey.

The mix of bilateral tension and the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves is an explosive one. Without legal grounds (Block 12 lies south of Cyprus) but with the arrogance of political and military strength, Ankara is threatening to use force to stop drilling within Cyprus?s exclusive economic zone. So what are the possible scenarios?

The area is being monitored by Israeli drones while Dolphin-class submarines are also expected to operate near the block. If necessary, Israel will send one or more Sa?ar 5-class corvettes. Cyprus has little to show in terms of naval power, while Greece is not expected to deploy any frigates.

It should come as no surprise if Turkey were to make a show of force by dispatching gunboats to the area, but it is highly unlikely that it will try to interfere with the drills. That would be seen as a direct provocation by Israel, which would have to respond in kind. Neither side would want that. Moreover, a tiff between the two nations would be a big headache for Washington. An escalation would probably involve air battles — the Israelis enjoy superiority thanks to a fleet of F-15s, F-16s, AWACS planes and aerial refueling aircraft. Turkey would carry out operations from airports in southern Turkey or northern Cyprus, with F-16s and aerial refueling aircraft. A military engagement would probably result in a costly victory for Israel but Tel Aviv wouldn?t want to add another state to its long list of enemies.

Ankara does not want a direct confrontation which would probably lead to a military defeat. The most likely scenario is that in a response to Cyprus and Greece, Turkey will carry out its own exploratory drilling north of Cyprus and in the area off the Greek island of Kastellorizo. At the same time, in a response to Israel, Turkey will continue to support challenges to the Gaza blockade, make overtures to Arab states, and back the Palestinian demand for independent statehood.

* Thanos Dokos is director general at the Hellenic Foundation for European