The Eastern Mediterranean dispute: is there light at the end of the tunnel?

    The EU and the US have an important role to play in ensuring multinational cooperation but they have yet to take up the responsibility.

    The EU and the US have an important role to play in ensuring multinational cooperation but they have yet to take up the responsibility. By sidelining Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the trio of Greece, Israel, and Egypt, as well as others are embarking on a perilous journey in the Eastern Mediterranean. The countries are working together in order to prevent the Turkish side from accessing their legitimate rights to the Eastern Mediterranean’s resources. It’s within this context, that an international pipeline project, the so-called EastMed pipeline, is expected to be signed into existence by Athens on January 2. By signing this deal, these countries want to create a fait accompli.

    Needless to say that the imposition by one party of a fait accompli is not acceptable, as it does not leave room for a negotiated settlement. In an attempt to safeguard their interests, the recent deal between Turkey and Libya to delineate an exclusive economic zone between both sides, will enable them to remain part of the energy equation in the Eastern Mediterranean. Ankara views this deal as a way to fence off disputed areas in this strategic region, and potentially prevent other countries from taking advantage of the region’s resources at the expense of Turkey, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), and Libya.

    Mutual agreement

    Instead of opening the doors to a negotiated settlement, which will benefit all stakeholders, these forces have further inflamed the situation by issuing incendiary statements. In response to Turkish engagement with the legitimate UN-backed government of Libya, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias travelled to Benghazi to meet with warlord Khalifa Haftar, in another setback to the UN-backed peace process in Libya. Greece is putting its weight behind Haftar, thereby endangering peace and stability in a very volatile region. Athens also intends to buy a fleet of American and Israeli armed drones to threaten Turkish interests in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. This policy of brinkmanship will not help bring about any political solution for existing disputes or result in regional prosperity.

    In contrast, Turkey has expressed its willingness to engage in dialogue with all parties, including Israel, with the aim of finding a political solution to the issue. Even Ankara’s most recent engagement with Libya was merely an attempt to prevent total encirclement in such a vital region. Greece’s approach, on the other hand, seems to be inconsistent and confusing.

    Avoiding escalation

    Former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou claims: “We (Greeks) want to avoid any types of heated conflict or possible armed conflict in the region. We created a framework for Turkey and other countries in the region based on international law, peaceful resolution of conflict, neighbourly relationships.” Facts on the ground contradict Papandreou’s statement. Recent moves by Athens were designed to isolate Turkey and the TRNC, while ignoring their legitimate rights completely. Unfortunately due to this recklessness, the dispute over the Eastern Mediterranean risks getting out of hand and drawing in players from beyond the region. To avoid such a catastrophic scenario, the international community must push for a solution through an international joint cooperation platform that includes all parties in an effort to reach a comprehensive, constructive and collaborative solution.

    In any case, this platform must include Turkey because of its geopolitical position and recent energy accomplishments like TurkStream and TANAP, which are not only securing Ankara’s own energy requirements but also allows the country to be the most cost-efficient conduit of Mediterranean gas to European markets. Ignoring a possible partnership with Turkey, which is the largest pan-regional energy hub is not only a grave political mistake but an immense financial blunder. According to solid research, there is no doubt that Turkish pipelines at the best way to transport energy resources to Europe.

    An analysis from the European Security and Defence of Germany explains, “Other interested parties are exploring options excluding Turkey even at the cost of a more expensive pipeline than one to Turkey – the most economically efficient way of bringing this gas to European markets.” Therefore, it would be wiser for all the stakeholders, especially Greece and Israel, to leave their imaginary concerns behind and open the doors open for an all-inclusive negotiated settlement. Furthermore, the United States and the European Union must step up to the plate and pave the way for multilateral cooperation and take on a more constructive role in the area.

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