The Mediterranean region is the intersection of three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa. This region has been the center of competition for the world's great powers since ancient times. This unique feature has always made the Mediterranean Sea one of the most important geopolitical and geostrategic points of the world, and Libya has a special place in it.
With the outbreak of the Cold War, the U.S. provided extensive economic and military assistance to Greece and Turkey under the Truman Doctrine in 1947 to play a role in the Mediterranean and to be on the front lines of the Cold War against communism as U.S. allies.
During the Cold War, the Mediterranean region was one of the most strategic points for the two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the U.S., along with Turkey and Greece, which had full power as NATO allies.
On the other hand, the Soviet Union's close ties with Syria and Egypt during the reign of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the establishment of naval bases in the Syrian port of Tartus, as well as in the town of Sidi Barrani in Egypt, can be seen in this context.
Until 1972, the Soviet Union used the Sidi Barrani base to monitor NATO naval activities in the region. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the region did not seem to be as geopolitically important to the West as it used to be.
During this period, due to the developments in the Middle East, the U.S. focused more on the Persian Gulf region and Afghanistan, and on the other hand, Washington saw itself head-to-head with emerging powers such as China.
This view has pushed the West out of its strategic perspective for two decades, but with the discovery of vast resources of gas and energy in the region over the past decade, the U.S., Russia, European countries and regional powers are once again on the ground.
It is clear that the discovery of new energy sources has always provided an opportunity for governments to invest in these fields in a timely manner, to meet the domestic needs of these resources to some extent, and to sell these resources in the regional and global market to have more bargaining power.
The growing need of major energy-consuming countries has always been an important factor in determining the consumption market of old and new energy sources.
Today, the increase in the share of natural gas in the energy basket of major consumer countries has shifted the geopolitics of energy from oil to gas, and huge gas resources in the Mediterranean Sea can play an important role in changing the geopolitical energy from oil to gas.
Major changes in the political systems of some countries in the region, such as Libya, which began in 2011, can be cited as examples. Following the discovery and consolidation of gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea, the region has become the scene of extensive competition.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said the maritime zone from Lebanon to Cyprus and Egypt stored at least 340 trillion cubic feet of gas, resulting in geopolitical risks and border disputes in the region, leading to serious conflicts over gas fields.
Cyprus and turmoil
Greece, along with the Greek Cypriot administration, Israel, Egypt and other Mediterranean countries, is exploring and even extracting oil and gas resources in the Mediterranean. Although Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) have maritime and legal boundaries under international law in the deep waters of the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration are reacting adversely to Turkey's exploration activities.
The island of Cyprus is shared by the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities, who are the common owners of the resources of the Mediterranean Sea, both at the surface and deep under the seafloor.
Therefore, Turkish Cypriots have a right to resources; however, the Greek Cypriot administration refuses to grant legal rights to the TRNC, under the pretext of not recognizing the northern part of the island on the international level, and criticizes and protests against Turkey, which also has the right to explore and operate in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Turkish National Oil Company has stated that its goal for the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey is to meet Turkey's domestic oil and natural gas needs from domestic sources, while the Turkish Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources has as its main goal gaining first place in the region in the field of energy and natural resources in 2023. The question that arises is what will be effective in achieving these goals amid tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean?
In this regard, it seems that the conditions and amount of exploration in this area should be examined first. Libya is one of the most important countries in which most of these oil and gas resources are located.
Libya is the gateway to the so-called African coast. In addition to dominating the Mediterranean and, of course, the region's vast gas reserves, the country has its own vast oil and gas resources.
Whoever has sovereignty over Libya has surveillance over the entire Mediterranean region and domination of the region's vast resources. Each of the regional and transregional powers clearly knows that they will not be able to fully dominate the Mediterranean's geopolitical and geoeconomic field, but they are trying to prevent the monopolization of energy resources in the Mediterranean by being present in this region.
The Libya factor
The efforts of the U.S., Europe, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Greece, Qatar, Algeria and even the Greek Cypriot administration to participate in the recent Libyan conflict can be evaluated and analyzed in this regard. Russia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Greece and Western countries all support warlord Gen. Khalifa Haftar in the Libyan conflict.
Turkey and Qatar have fully supported the administration of Fayez Sarraj, the prime minister of the United Nations-backed government. A closer look reveals that the sharing of resources, the imbalance of power in the region, and concerns about the monopoly of energy resources in the Mediterranean by a particular power have brought traditional allies head-to-head and old rivals together in order to be able to somehow prevent the distribution of this huge source of energy among different countries and to own it.
But in the meantime, what interferes with legal relations is the support of beneficiary countries for Haftar's militias in overthrowing the legitimate government of Sarraj.
While pro-Haftar countries are giving unofficial support by sending economic and military aid, Turkey has officially recognized its presence in Libya by signing two agreements with the legitimate government.
In conclusion, the emergence of a power vacuum, the imbalance of power in the Mediterranean, and the discovery of huge oil and gas reserves in this area over the past decade have made the region one of the most important and attractive for international and regional powers.
Additionally, the presence of regional and transregional powers in the Mediterranean, and especially in Libya, will not only not help unravel the knot but will also complicate the situation.
*Fellow at the Iranian International Studies Association in Tehran. His research focuses on Iran and the Middle East
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