Turkey and the internationally-recognized, U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libya signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Nov. 27, shaking the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Then on Dec. 5, the Turkish Parliament ratified the MoU with Libya, showing that it is a government policy, not just one of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s own views. All the parties in Turkey welcomed the agreement as it is a state matter which has been on the table for decades even before President Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) won the elections for the first time in 2002. However, Erdoğan is the one who has achieved it.
The maritime deal in question, signed by Erdoğan and GNA head Fayez Al Sarraj in Istanbul, aims to secure Libya and Turkey’s rights in the Mediterranean and prevent any fait accompli attempts by regional states, some which have already made maneuvers to do so with their drilling activities and energy deals. With this agreement, Turkey and Libya, which are maritime neighbors, have established 18.6 nautical miles of a continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundary line between the two countries.
Greece, the EU, Egypt, Israel and the Greek Cypriot Administration were the first to condemn the MoU. Of course, Libya’s warlord Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who is responsible for the ongoing chaos in Libya by invading east Libya and controlling the port city of Benghazi, has also gone mad after the deal. Many people might not be aware that Haftar, a puppet of the proxy war in Libya, has ties with Israel, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and is working for the benefit of those countries.
The Haftar hostility
Meanwhile, Haftar’s hostility toward Turkey is growing. This summer, he ordered an attack on Turkish ships in Libyan territorial waters, closed air space for Turkish planes and detained Turkish citizens in the territory which he controlled. Since all of his attempts to take Tripoli, backed by Turkey, have failed, he is losing his mind. That is why he arrested six Turkish citizens but had to release them quickly as he did not dare see what Turkey would do to bring its citizens back. Turkey has taken all measures against future possible hostile moves or threats and is ready to confront attacks unless Haftar sits still.
Egypt was one of the countries that condemned the Turkey-Libya maritime deal; but it lowered its voice recently because the deal is, in fact, beneficial to Egypt as well. The boundary line between Turkey and Libya increases Egypt’s EEZ too.
Greece and the Greek Cypriot Administration are the countries most furious over the deal. However, they are two of the leading parties who isolated the interests of other regional countries for years. As Greece is not strong enough to confront Turkey, Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador to show its anger. But this is just a move that shows Athens cannot contain itself on the deal. We know that Athens will go to the EU and Western countries crying and saying that Turkey has expansionist projects in the East Mediterranean, they are deceived by Libya, and Erdoğan has to be stopped. We can expect more threats and typical warmongering newspaper headlines in Greek media as well.
That said, Turkey keeps saying that the diplomatic channels for maritime boundary delimitation with all coastal states including every country that has rights concerning the East Mediterranean are open, contrary to the selfish policies of Israel, Greece, the Greek Cypriot Administration and Egypt. The deal with Libya is not to raise tensions in the region but a move to protect Turkey and Libya’s interests and a start to bring all other coastal states to the table for talks on their rights. But that doesn’t mean Turkey will stop at this point. As President Erdoğan said, both countries can carry out joint exploration operations in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Since 2003, the Greek Cypriot Administration has been seeking an adventurous policy in the region by concluding maritime delimitation agreements, conducting oil and gas exploration, and issuing unilateral permits for such activities around the island. Its provocative policies ignore the Turkish Cypriots’ existing and inherent equal rights over the natural resources and the sea around the island. By allying with Egypt and Israel, the Greeks and Greek Cypriots have disrespected other coastal states. The Eastern Mediterranean drilling activities of Turkey, the country that has the longest continental coastline, to defend its own rights and the rights of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ (TRNC) people has been condemned by those countries and their backers too. The maliciousness toward Turkey that aims to limit the Turkish EEZ to the Gulf of Antalya cannot be tolerated, of course. Turkey’s position is very clear: The dispute has to be solved with comprehensive negotiations which will benefit all coastal states as well as Turkish and Greek Cypriots.
On the other hand, a huge natural gas field was discovered off the shores of Haifa port of Israel nine years ago. Namely, the Leviathan field's recoverable volume is estimated to be more than 600 billion cubic meters of gas by Noble Energy, the U.S. company that discovered the field in 2010. Israel's gas reserves are not large compared to global volumes, however, the numbers associated with Leviathan were depicted as a game-changer for Israel. But today, only one very small gas field, Tamar, supplies the Israeli energy sector. The Tamar field contains only around 80 billion cubic meters of gas, and yet it provides around 60% of Israel's electricity and looks like it will do so for years. So, if Leviathan starts to work, it might make Israel a net gas exporter. Meanwhile, other fields have been said to be found in the same basin such as the Aphrodite field near Cyprus.
Energy experts believe that there is more gas waiting to be discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean along the coasts of Gaza, Lebanon and Egypt's Sinai in the south, and Greek Cyprus, the TRNC and Syria in the north. However, apart from Tamar, the gas in question is in waiting and further exploration has been frozen as there isn't an export route for an enormous amount of gas, of which the volume far exceeds the domestic needs of the countries involved.
Even if Israel succeeds in exporting natural gas from Leviathan, it has to work with other regional countries to deliver it to Europe. Today it looks like it has no option other than Greek Cyprus and Egypt. According to last year's reports, Israel, Greek Cyprus, Greece and Italy have reached an agreement to lay a pipeline connecting Israel's gas reserves to the three countries, in a major project, namely East Med, that will supply gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe. Europe, too, has an interest in seeing the development of the East Med proceed, which would enable it to diversify its energy suppliers and reduce its dependence on Russian gas.
The LNG facility
However, the construction cost of East Med, according to initial estimates, is $7 billion. Nicosia is also pushing to link the pipeline through the Aphrodite field to a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Egypt, which will also cost around $1 billion. And we have to note that such a major project is expected to be financed by the EU.
Even though it is supported by the Greek and Italian governments, which are both known to be very critical of Brussels, the cost is quite high. Constructing an LNG processing plant and shipping the resources not only to Europe but also to the growing markets of Asia in order to compensate the capital cost is an option. But even if it is done, it would be quite uncompetitive in a world where there is no shortage of gas supply.
It has already been very annoying that the Turkish EEZ is the obvious and most cost-effective transit point for this gas as it is geographically very close to the fields in question and already has a domestic pipeline network that could carry the gas to Europe. Through an offshore pipeline to Turkey and by collecting resources from all the fields along the way, the East Med can be carried out. However, this option has already been ruled out because of the current disputes. Israel's savage policies aiming to wipe off the Palestinians and the ongoing dispute between Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus are the other political obstacles against such a solution.
With the agreement between Turkey and Libya, the East Med Project’s pipeline has to go through Turkey's EEZ. It has strengthened Turkey’s hand in the region, and it will provide a direct role in the energy geopolitics game, on a legal basis. For that reason, all the plans that have isolated other regional countries have been turned upside down for now. For Greece, the Greek Cypriot Administration and Israel, the party is over, and they are not dancing anymore.