Category Archives: Israel

Eastern Mediteranean: Energy Developments and Geopolitical Implications

Zenonas Tziarras
(PhD (Cand.) Politics & International Studies, University of Warwick, UK)

Copyright: www.rieas.gr

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.

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Turkey: War or Blank Shots?

The recent developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, with Turkey threatening both Israel and Cyprus in an effort to prevent them from proceeding with the extraction of the Cypriot natural gas and beyond, the question that arises is whether Turkey can – or is willing – to carry out its threats.
Given all the things it has accomplished the last decade, including the recent victory of the Islamists against the Kemalist establishment, and knowing that there is indeed a gap of power in the wider Mediterranean region, Turkey, has overestimated itself and has adopted an unprecedentedly arrogant stance which leads to the overt promotion of its national interests. But this arrogance has put it in a very difficult position from which it will hardly come out unscathed. At this moment it is balancing between two realities: the threats that it already made on the one hand and the multiple fronts it has to face on the other. For example Turkey is facing the Kurdish problem at home and on its borders with Northern Iraq, Syria and Iran. Moreover, its relations with Syria are in serious decline because of the crisis that is taking place in the latter. Furthermore, Ankara seems to be losing the support of the Iranian government particularly since it has agreed to install NATO’s anti-missile radar in Turkish soil. To this troubling situation the crisis with Israel has also been added.
Consequently, it would be rational for Turkey not to further escalate the situation. However it has already threatened Cyprus and Israel. It has already used “strategic coercion.” If it does not work, according to this kind of tactic, Turkey should normally proceed in carrying out its threats in order to maintain its credibility as a regional superpower. Anything less than that would affect its image and at the same time it would mean that such a tactic would not be convincing in the future. Therefore Turkey appears to be in a big dilemma: to engage in a war which seems to be beyond its capabilities (mainly because it will weaken its domestic security), or to step back risking the image that it tried so hard to create? The most likely scenario is that Turkey will undertake its well known violations (of airspace and marine boarders), creating small-scale events which it can easily handle, in order to keep the risky equilibrium between what it wants and what it can accomplish. Another – unlikely but nonetheless not implausible – scenario is to see Turkey going beyond what is reasonable and possible, together with a full shift in Davutoglu’s doctrine of “zero-problems” and “soft-power”.