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    Geopolitics of the Energy Resource Potential of the Eastern Mediterranean: International and Regional Actors

Summary

The Syrian war could represent a unique window of opportunity for Israel to secure long-term agreements and align export policy with a broader effort to reset Israeli-European relations.

by: Thrassy N. Marketos

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Geopolitics of the Energy Resource Potential of the Eastern Mediterranean: International and Regional Actors

The geostrategic significance of Eastern Mediterranean energy resources seems obvious if one considers that the EU is currently importing some 83% of its needs in oil and 57% in natural gas, and that estimates show that Israel, Cyprus and Greece’s deposits suffice for the exclusive feeding of the 27 member states for around twenty years. Equally important is that the natural gas consumption in the EU reached 471Gm3 in 2007 and is increasing in a 3% pace every year, as well as the fact that the European Commission aims to reduce carbon dioxide air contamination by 2020 in order that Europe abandons coal burning. Adding the extremely sensitive political and geostrategic transition occurring in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and of course in Iran, the proxy civil war in Syria not withstanding - and the highly competitive nature of relations between the Russian Federation and the Washington-London axis, one recons the importance of the ‘game’.

This analysis, based on the neo-realist school of thought in geopolitics, aspires to shed light on the geopolitical game being played astride the media coverage of the Syrian civil war and Eastern Mediterranean gas deposit potential. 

The increasingly tense relationship between Israel and Turkey has in recent years become one of Washington’s most delicate and unwelcome foreign policy challenges. It is thus possible that the US will try to ensure that the energy rivalry does not spark a crisis between the two countries, and that the Cyprus conflict does not become interlinked with it as this would make both even more difficult to resolve (1).   

Speaking of an Israeli-Turkish gas pipeline, broadly discussed in recent months, Israel’s recent experience with Egypt, where half of its natural gas supply was permanently severed following the collapse of the Mubarak regime, suggests that Tel Aviv will view with apprehension any scheme to anchor its critical infrastructure in countries beyond its borders, such as Turkey. For Israel, it would make more sense that ultimately the gas will be liquefied on Israeli territory and exported directly via sea to the consuming market.

Ankara is trying to persuade Tel Aviv to build an export pipeline from the Leviathan field to its Minor Asia coast, provided that Israel ended energy cooperation with Cyprus. Turkey has even suspended some of its projects with Eni, the Italian oil and natural gas giant, including the 550-kilometer long Samsun-Ceyhan crude oil pipeline project, because of Eni’s plans to explore offshore of Cyprus claiming that they are in violation of international law. Given that Eni is working with Russian firm Gazprom to build the South Stream pipeline scheduled to carry Russian gas through Turkey to Central Europe, Eni’s suspension targets equally Moscow.

However, the biggest threat to the realization of an Israel-Turkey gas pipeline, except to Ankara’s seeking to rehabilitate its bygone Ottoman glory, are the following:

  1. Tel Aviv would be exposed to Turkish blackmail
  2. The pipeline itself would suffer vulnerability to Ankara orchestrated sabotage, and above all
  3. Moscow would be utterly displeased since Israeli gas posses a competitive pressure on Russia’s supply to Turkish and European markets
  4. Russia sees itself threatened by the rise of a resurgent Ottoman Sunni empire to its south and is seeking to make Ankara’s ambitions down to size

As David Wumster quotes, "it would be a risky endeavor to be on the wrong side of Russia and Iran on the issue of a facility in Turkey which cannot be effectively protected from terror" (2).  Further on, Israel’s experience with Egypt and the Palestinians suggest that anchoring the Hebrew state’s gas export system to Turkey is out of question. All evidence show that Turkey, under the guidance of Tayyp Erdogan and AKP and despite people outcry, has abandoned ‘Kemalism’ as founding ideology and the principles of the secular state. Without doubt, it remains an utterly intolerant state that has univocally embraced ‘New-Ottoman’ ideology in order to pursue a pro-Arab and against Israel policy in the Middle East.           

And not with a minor reason. As the French intervention in Mali highlighted, the rising tide of Islamist sentiments in North Africa and the Saharan regions threaten the stability of North African states. Centrifugal tendencies have arisen from the breakdown of central authorities in many Arab states and have reinforced the importance of tribe, sect, and families. At the same time, the devastation left in the aftermath of the collapse of the reigning pan-Arab nationalist ideology, has driven many to seek the authenticity of Islam. Even without the overlay of ideology, the breakdown of the central state leans tribes and other local leaders to seek new arrangements with the residual central authority or neighboring tribes or leaders. The presence of an oil or gas pipeline or installation within reach of the tribe –with a choice of either sabotage or protection offered- lends tremendous negotiating leverage. It is in this middle- eastern context that Ankara is trying imposing its ‘New-Ottoman’ ideology using the common Muslim faith as a tool to achieve hegemony.     

Unfortunately for the Republic of Cyprus, after Mohamed Morsi was elected president of Egypt, Nicosia strategic challenges have grown as Egypt’s upper house approved a draft law (March 2013) canceling the agreement on maritime borders between the two countries and calling for the creation of new borders surrounding the economic zone in the presence of Turkey as a third party. The proposed law claimed that the agreement signed by Cyprus and Israel in 2012 invalidated the Egyptian-Cypriot deal of 2013, since Egypt had the right to be present at the signing. In fact, Turkey has been leaning on both Lebanon and Egypt to reject the EEZ agreements signed with Cyprus.

This trend seems to have been reversed after a military coup in Cairo ousted President Morsi (August 2013) following massive demonstrations against Islamist policies. Furthermore, in a meeting the Greek and Egyptian foreign ministers (September 2013), agreed to discuss the two countries respective EEZ with the inclusion of Cyprus, which may end likely in the Greek EEZ reaching as far as the joint borders of those of Cyprus-Egypt.  

In short, anchoring more than a sixth of Europe’s entire gas supply to an area being torn by collapsing states and tempted by Islamic ideology could represent a unique window of opportunity for Israel to nail down long-term agreements and align export policy with a broader effort to reset Israeli-European relations (3).

Dr. Thrassy N. Marketos, is a Jurist specialised in Public International Law in the University of Aix – Marseille III (France) and was nominated doctor in International Relations by the Panteion University of Athens (Greece). He works for the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs and serves as a lecturer of Eurasia geopolitics in the Hellenic Army Headquarter Academy of War (Athens - Greece). He published the monograph 'China's Energy Geopolitics: The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and Central Asia' (Rutledge - Taylor & Francis Books Ltd, Oxforshire: UK, 2010) and several other analysis in International and Greek journals. 


Notes

This analysis content, figures or maps have nothing to do whatsoever with the author’s work in the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs

(1). Simone Tagliapietra, ‘Towards a New Eastern Mediterranean Energy Corridor? Natural Gas Developments Between Market Opportunities and Geopolitical Risks’, Fondazione Eni Enricco Mattei, 12.2013.

(2). David Wurmser, ‘The Geopolitics of Israel’s Offshore Gas Reserves, (April 3, 2013).

(3). David Wurmser, ibid.