Conflict or cooperation over eastern Mediterranean energy resources?
by Yakup Şahin
Mar 28, 2014 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Yakup Şahin
Mar 28, 2014 12:00 am
The Turkey-Israel- Southern Cyprus will be either the scene of a drawn out conflict or profitable partnerships depending on whether parties will be able to come to an agreement to divvy up pieces of the energy pie fairly
Throughout human history elements such as power, distribution of resources, population and psychology have been driving factors behind conflicts and wars to varying degrees. Although profit stemming from the sharing or usage of resources causes destructive conflicts, in some cases it can also unite opposing parties. In addition, reciprocal dependency on resources can also prove to be conducive to peace.
The fertile energy resources under exploration in the eastern Mediterranean Sea are also expected to force states in the region to take a course of action which could lead to either conflict or long-term cooperation that is mentioned above. With the exploration of natural gas and petrol fields at the beginning of the 2000s, countries in the region put in claims for these reserves and tensions between regional states rose. Greek Cypriots declared that they had officially begun their search for petrol and natural gas as of 2002 and agreed to establish an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with Egypt and Lebanon in 2011. Under pressure from Turkey, the Parliament in Lebanon did not approve the agreement. Likewise, Egypt cancelled the agreement in 2013 at the request of Turkey.
When examined in terms of technique, as stated in International Law, EEZ means enabling resources to bring in national economy by way of giving exclusive rights to the concerning countries on both living resources and nonliving resources in the sea. According to International Law, countries in an Exclusive Economic Zone are given authorization to expand up to 200 miles. However, it is seen that some regions are in a confined space and the countries in the regions where the borders coincide can arrange their exclusive economic zones by way of bilateral or trilateral agreements. It is estimated that 200 billion cubic meters of natural gas are in the field off the shore of Cyprus and in the 12th parcel of Aphrodite Natural Gas Field in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It is also estimated that 3.7 billion barrels of oil are in the basement layers of the same field. It is thought that 450 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 600 billion barrels of oil are in the Tamar field off the coast of Israel. It is also thought that 250 billion cubic meters of natural gas are available in the other parts of the region.
Though Israelis and Greek Cypriots saw the potential for eco- nomic and geostrategic profit, they also saw that having energy resources alone was not enough and its efforts had to be presented in a "cheap and safe" way.
Even though Greek Cypriots have staked their recovery from the economic crisis on the prospect of there being large deposits of hydrocarbon deposits off their shores, the logistics of energy supply, protests by the Turkish government and the pressure of the United States showed them that they could not extract and market on their own. Israel has seen that it cannot go it alone since it was in an entrapped geography. In previous years, due to tension between Israel and Turkey; Israel, Greece and Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus drew closer to one another. Some media outlets presented this as a new alliance.
Although Greek Cypriots gave priority to the pipeline between Cyprus Island and Greece for energy supplies, the plan has since been suspended now that it was seen that the air distance between the island and Greece was 850 km (it must be pointed out that the distance between the island and Turkey is 70 km), meaning the project was deemed too expensive. Though Israel planned to get the liquefied gas to markets by sea transport, this was also projected to be too expensive. For this reason, especially the U.S., Western countries and major energy companies tried to direct parties to Turkey, where the supply of energy could be done in a much faster and more affordable way. As a matter of fact, a retired U.S. diplomat who is in the administration of an energy company proposed the introduction of the Leviathan field belonging to Israel to the market via a pipeline linked to Mersin. According to leaked documents found on WikiLeaks similar proposals were made to Greek Cypriots.
In the Western media, lots of writings were published on the construction of the pipeline of Turkey-Israel and Cyprus (administered by Turks and Cypriots who arrived at a solution) and energy route. It was also emphasized that this way was supported influentially by the U.S. and European Union now that a gas transport dispatched via Turkey was ten times cheaper than the other alternatives.
In view of the examples such as the supply of oil from northern Iraq and Azeri gas to international markets via Turkey, it can be seen that the transportation and presentation of energy sources is one of the important mechanisms in Turkish foreign policy. Also, Turkey will benefit from energy which is extracted from the eastern Mediterranean Sea and transported via its own land. Turkey will conse- quently strengthen its powerful role which it wants to play in the region, will support its part in Cyprus negotiations and will benefit from the sources more.
Such a move would be important for Greek Cypriots, it is important on behalf of establishment of permanent peace, being acknowledged by Turkey and liberation from the present economic crisis with the gain coming from the energy. Likewise, it is for the benefit of Turkish Cypriots with regards to their utilization from the energy and acknowledgement in international relations.
Israel now stands to benefit greatly after reestablishing relations with Turkey and its presentation of the energy in a faster and cheaper way.
When it is considered that it hosts hot spots such as Suez, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria which are important energy sources in the Eastern Mediterranean, the situation and the geostrategic importance can be understood better in view of the İncirlik (NATO) base in Turkey, Dhekelia and Aktoriri bases (U.K.) in Cyprus and Tartus base in Syria (Russian). In terms of the energy supply, which is one of the most important subjects in global politics, closing the ranks by rearranging the relations of its allies in a troublesome geography and providing consistency, it is extremely important for the U.S. Therefore, the safe and cheap supply of energy and bringing the various parties to a solution are directly for the benefit of the U.S. The distribution of gas and oil resources and their introduction into the market are essential in terms of peace settlement at the micro level, the reconstruction of the game in the eastern Mediterranean whose importance gradually increases at the macro level.
After Netanyahu apologized to Turkey, due to pressure from U.S. President Obama, the first steps were taken on the reformation of Turkey-Israel relations and Israeli authorized officers explained that it was fundamental to put the relations with Turkey in its previous order. During the same period, it was decided that negotiations with Southern Cyprus could begin again, with the attempt of the U.S. Yet more, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, arbitrated. The archbishop of Cyprus Orthodox Church Chrysostomos II, who is known to have an influence over Greek Cypriots, issued a statement approving the transportation of the gas via Turkey.
When these developments are evaluated together, the start of negotiations with Cyprus in a more willing and powerful way and the desire to rehabilitate the relations between Israel and Turkey are closely related to the chaotic and inconsistent situation which started with both the eastern Mediterranean Resources and the Arab Spring. After all, energy experts are predicting that the Cyprus Resolution and Turkey-Israel Normalization will turn the eastern Mediterranean into a new and reliable energy basin for international market.
It is seen that there is new deals and new relations will be established in the near future when the Arab Spring, the fluctuant systems in the Middle East and on-going conflicts are added to a lot of gas found in the eastern Mediterranean. In this manner, it can be seen that the Turkey-Israel-Southern Cyprus triangle will settle in a new place if it is believed that making the most of the cake is more beneficial for all parties instead of taking the cake to pieces. Both Turkey-Israel relations and the peace talks in Cyprus are directly related in the matter of the energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Even though it is deduced that gas has a catalytic role in the Turkey-Israel-Cyprus triangle above, what is actually emphasized is that the re-establishment of relations is via natural gas. Since life, especially politics does not proceed linearly; it must be pointed out that other developments that can be experienced can cause relations in contrast to the foreseen develop- ments above. New developments that can happen in international politics, internal affairs of the concerning countries, their nationalist reflexes and selfish aims on the sources can lead this scenario to other places.
*Ankara University, the Faculty of Political Sciences, PhD Candidate