It is widely argued that as a result of the 2008-2009 energy crisis between Russia and Ukraine, member-states of the European Union and European countries more generally, want to diversify their energy sources and ultimately reduce their dependency on Russia. In light of this, continental Europe emerges as an energy market in need, while potential alternative energy (natural gas or oil) producers and/or transporters acquire significant geopolitical, geo-economic, and strategic value. The existing energy pipeline projects that end up in Europe, coupled with other similar projects currently in progress and the newly-found natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean – in the Israeli and Cypriot maritime Exclusive Economic Zones – and in the Black Sea, lead to the emergence of a new geo-economic competition of strategic significance. This competition for fulfilling Europe’s energy needs has political extensions and implications for the actors involved. Τhe most important actors taking part in this competition, at this juncture, are arguably Turkey – along with energy producers such as Azerbaijan – and Israel in cooperation with Cyprus and even Greece.
It has become obvious that in the Eastern Mediterranean a new politico-economic, and in an important degree, strategic, axis is developing, consisting of Israel, Cyprus, and Greece. This cooperation has not come as a surprise for those who follow the geopolitical developments of the last years in the region. It is the product of various factors and developments that have taken place on different levels. Yet, the most significant factors that have led to the creation of this cooperation (and for many, alliance) are the gradual changes in Turkish foreign policy, mainly since 2002, which have led to the deterioration of the Turkish-Israeli relations, as well as the discovery of hydrocarbons in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Cyprus, in conjunction with the efforts of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) to delimitate its EEZ with other states of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Turkish-Israeli relations took a turn for the worst in May 2010, with the “Gaza Flotilla incident”, where Israeli commandos killed eight Turkish and one Turkish-american activist during a raid on the “Mavi Marmara” ship that was carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip. Regarding the case of Cyprus and the natural gas, the tensions escalated when Turkey, since the summer and autumn of 2011, threatened the RoC both verbally and by mobilizing warships, in order to achieve the interruption of its efforts for drillings in “Block 12”, in the southeast of the Island.
(PhD (Cand.) Politics & International Studies, University of Warwick, UK)
Since the drillings at block 12 in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for the finding of natural gas were announced a few months ago, a diplomatic crisis, which later became a real threat to the regional stability and security, begun to unfold. Israel and Greece are directly involved in Cyprus’ efforts to drill out its natural gas; the former because of the geographic proximity of its own underwater energy reserves to the Cypriot block, and the latter because of the common Turkish disputes it faces regarding its marine borders, the strong diplomatic and economic bonds it maintains with Cyprus, the economic benefits of exploiting its own underwater energy resources and the need to delimitate its own EEZ.
The circumstances under which these developments have occurred could have probably not been worse given the general instability in the regions due to the Arab Spring, the decline in the Turkish-Israeli relations, the re-ignition of the Kurdish problem, the escalating Syrian crisis and of course the economic crisis. Apart from Cyprus, Greece and Israel, there are other actors involved in this situation and parallel realities that could play a significant role in exacerbating the crisis, leading to unfortunate security consequences.