The Eastern Mediterranean has once more emerged as a particularly critical area for international and regional stability, security and economic growth. On its geopolitical chessboard, competition is evolving.
Major developments in the region began in 2009 with the discovery by Noble of the Israeli Tamar gas field. The discovery of other exploitable reserves followed. At the same time, the countries of the region – all but Turkey – namely Cyprus, Israel, Egypt and Lebanon, delimited their exclusive economic zones in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The intensified activity of major international energy companies such as Noble, Exxon, Total and ENI, demonstrates the region’s prospects. It is no coincidence that many infrastructure projects in the region are being discussed, particularly the EastMed pipeline, which will link gas reserves from Israel and Cyprus to Greece and Italy.
This ambitious project has been categorized by the EU as a Project of Common Interest and received 34.5 million euros in funding for its technical studies. The flagship pipeline also received the political blessings of the US when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo participated in the trilateral Greece-Cyprus-Israel summit this past March.
The energy triangle of the democracies of the region, which I call “the 3Ds project,” is of key importance for stability and development in the Eastern Mediterranean. It also constitutes a major contribution to Europe’s energy security. Furthermore, it has already become a catalyst for the establishment of other cooperation schemes in the region, such as the tripartite Greece-Cyprus-Egypt mechanism.
Turkey, for its part, has excluded itself from these positive developments because it simply insists on not abiding by the rules of the game:
1. Turkey does not want to implement the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and it aims to delimit its maritime zones arbitrarily.
2. It does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus and its legal rights.
3. Turkey has serious issues in its bilateral relations with Greece, Egypt, Israel and Cyprus. The proclaimed Turkish policy of “zero problems with neighbors” has been transformed into “zero neighbors without problems.”
Due to its self-exclusion from the energy game in the Eastern Mediterranean, Ankara tries to impose its participation through provocations and gunboat diplomacy aiming to obstruct the progress of the various energy projects in the region.
Furthermore, Turkey seems to insist on installing the Russian S-400 missile system on its territory. One could argue that Turkey, besides being a difficult neighbor, is evolving into an unpredictable and uncertain ally. Turkey’s overall de-Westernization trend is now visible and it does not seem to be reversible in the foreseeable future.
I hope that initiatives such as the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019 tabled by US senators Robert Menendez from the Democrats and Marco Rubio from the Republicans will be taken seriously into consideration by Ankara and will result in substantial corrective moves to its policy.
Ankara must stop being a consumer of security and become a security producer in the Eastern Mediterranean instead. Turkey must stop being an unpredictable and destabilizing force in the region. The ball is in Turkey’s court.
Giorgos Koumoutsakos is New Democracy’s shadow foreign minister.