Thursday, August 6, 2020

Natural gas: Turkey's sabre-rattling in the Mediterranean

Littoral states to the Mediterranean, and especially Greece, are at a loss how to deal with a turkish government that is increasingly bullying countries with natural resources, trying to have a piece of the cake writes german newspaper "WELT":

"A few weeks ago, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said something that sounded reassuring, but on closer inspection it was not. He was "mathematically certain," he told TV station A Haber, "that Greece did not want to go to war with Turkey." Akar referred to the continuing tensions between the two countries, which have been arguing over their sea borders and economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean for years.
Indeed, Greece certainly does not want war. Such a situation would be devastating for the small, economically troubled country. Nonetheless, one of NATO's largest and most expensive air forces and navies is affording itself - solely to be prepared for an armed conflict with Turkey.
Still, Akar's statement was anything but reassuring. Because two things remained unsaid, but clearly resonated.
Firstly, that Turkey is very willing to take up arms in an emergency. Second, that it can stick to the strategy of deploying its research ships and its Navy, which has been upgraded for this purpose since 2005, in waters that Greece claims to have.
Both countries are interested in the considerable natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. They were discovered long ago off the coasts of Israel, Gaza, Egypt and Cyprus. Substantial oil and gas reserves are also suspected in the Aegean Sea and south of Crete. The French energy company Total, the American company ExxonMobil and the Greek fuel manufacturer ELPE received an eight-year license in June 2019 to search for oil and gas there.
Almost every riparian state can hope for sparkling income from the energy business, but not one: Turkey. So far nothing has been found off their coast. But she doesn't want to be left empty-handed. That is why it puts pressure on three fronts.
Firstly, by acting as a guarantee for the internationally unrecognized Turkish part of Cyprus (Northern Cyprus). In its name, Turkey is researching gas off the Cyprus coast and is threatening to militarily prevent any “unilateral” exploitation of the mineral resources off the island if necessary.
Ankara is even demanding an agreement to mine and share the proceeds with Northern Cyprus. The Cypriot government refuses - and emphasizes that it is the only legitimate government of Cyprus under international law and is also an EU member.
Second, Ankara threatens to militarily prevent a pipeline through the Mediterranean if necessary. In order to be able to exploit the gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean lucratively, the gas would have to be delivered to Europe. But a pipeline or ships transporting liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) would have to cross both sea areas that Turkey is currently trying to dominate militarily.
An agreement with the United Nations-recognized Libyan government, the "National Unity" (GNA), divides the sea borders between Turkey and Libya so that they touch south of Cyprus and gives the Turkish Navy and Turkish research ships the right to also operate in Libyan waters. Turkey supports the GNA in the Libyan civil war with, among other things, armed drones, fighters and warships. This has already helped the GNA to achieve some military success.
Ankara's third lever is the unilateral shifting of the sea borders. Turkey could achieve this by creating legal gray areas and permanently exerting military and diplomatic pressure. The agreement with Libya, internationally condemned and not recognized by anyone, is one such legal move.
Another is to claim each island that is not named in the Treaty of Lausanne (which also defined the maritime border to Greece after the First World War) and to be regularly present there with the Air Force and Navy. Ankara also warns all oil companies in a clear tone against researching oil or gas in such waters - or exploiting known deposits that Turkey claims for itself.
The current climax of the Mediterranean crisis, which has been simmering for a long time, is an announcement by Ankara that it will start researching for oil and gas in the Aegean and south of Crete from September. Greece has already announced that it will also want to prevent this by military means if necessary.
But how can and how does Greece want to defend itself? The government in Athens has developed three short-term scenarios and is also pursuing a long-term, double-track diplomatic strategy. 
The Greek newspaper "Kathimerini" explains the scenarios as follows: If, as announced, in September Turkey lets a research ship accompanied by warships sail out of Crete and / or an Aegean island, but does not drill, then Greece will miss the same number of ships position, but do not intervene.
However, when a research ship lays cables on the seabed for seismic surveys, the Greeks want to cut them off or interfere electronically. If Turkey sends an oil rig, which is unlikely, the drill must not reach the seabed - at least warning shots could then be fired.
In addition to these tactical gimmicks, Greece wants to force Turkey into a diplomatic stranglehold, namely through a gas alliance against one - Turkey. The government in Athens has already decided to cooperate closely with Israel, Egypt, Cyprus and Italy on the exploitation of gas deposits in the Mediterranean.
The construction of a joint Mediterranean pipeline to Europe was agreed with Israel and Cyprus. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis last affirmed the project during talks in Jerusalem in mid-June.

An active involvement of the EU should put additional pressure on. In fact, Brussels and the USA have clearly expressed themselves in favor of Greece and issued corresponding warnings to Turkey. France even threatened Turkey that it would not tolerate any military influence in Libya. Moscow and Cairo made similar statements.
However, the EU is constantly under pressure in the migration crisis, because Ankara can threaten to open its borders and let refugees flow to Europe at any time. When Turkey opened the border to Greece and thus to the EU for migrants in March, thousands made their way west. The Greek security forces tried to stop them, and violent clashes broke out.
The United States under President Donald Trump is rather understanding of Erdogan and less inclined to really intervene. Brussels cannot expect any support from there.
In Libya, on the other hand, there are behind the scenes talks between Greeks and the LNA. General Haftar's rebel army, which is also supported by Egypt, Russia, France and the Emirates, offers Athens talks on the maritime border. But for this tactic to work, it would first have to win the civil war. Greece has already agreed on the common maritime border with Italy, and Cairo is under discussion.
Despite the growing tensions: An important part of the Greek strategy is to keep talking to Turkey. Just a few days ago, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke on the phone. Details of the interviews are not known. But a compromise is unthinkable, even if it is completely unclear how it could look like. The game for the Mediterranean, it goes on."

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