A Sea of Disputes: Decoding East Mediterranean Gas Geopolitics

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The East Mediterranean is known for its beautiful cuisine, nature, culture, and climate. However, in the contemporary geopolitical structure, it is famous for another thing: it’s natural gas reserves.

The region borders North Africa to the west, Mesopotamia to the east and the Anatolian peninsula to the north. The territory includes Türkiye, Greece, Egypt, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and the divided island nation of Cyprus, which is central to the region’s potential gas reserves.

Most of the conflicts come from differences between the thesis of Türkiye and Greece. EastMed was one of the potential ideas to create a gas link between the EU and East Mediterranean. Greece spearheaded the EastMed Pipeline Project, with support from Israel and Egypt. However, the project was deemed unrealistic for transparent reasons, primarily due to the exclusion of Türkiye from the initiative, despite its potential as the most obvious route for a Mediterranean pipeline. From Washington’s perspective, the project was also deemed costly and unsustainable. According to Reuters,Concerns about the financial viability of the project have been heard before, but Greece, Israel, and Cyprus have supported the project.”  Ankara on the other hand, insistently says the plan will not work without Türkiye.

The main divisions between Greece and Türkiye in this issue is the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claims. Ankara’s main goal is the “Blue Homeland” vision. The concept of the Blue Homeland strategy is visualized on a map, showing Türkiye’s land area encircled by a wide maritime zone of about 180,000 square miles, which extends past the Greek islands near Türkiye’s western shores. Another noteworthy issue is coming from the division of Cyprus. De facto known TRNC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) declared its own EEZ despite Cyprus’s current one.

The Eastern Mediterranean Gas gained further significance with the onset of the Russo-Ukraine war in 2022, as one of its primary objectives was to reduce the EU’s reliance on Russia. According to Alan Makovsky from the Center for American Progress, “The war also sharpens the rivalry between Russia and the West in a manner still to play out. Russia could emerge as a more difficult neighbour for the United States, Turkey, and/or Israel in the Syrian arena, for example. A weakened Russia, however, may draw down its involvement in Syria as well as in Libya.” He also adds that the conflict between two Black Sea nations serves as a reminder of Turkey’s significance, yet it hasn’t fundamentally changed its delicate balancing act between NATO/the West and Russia. Turkey continues to rhetorically align with the West while refraining from imposing sanctions on Russia, with recent actions such as selling drones to Ukraine and positioning itself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine adding complexity to its approach.

In conclusion, the East Mediterranean’s natural gas reserves have sparked geopolitical tensions, notably between Türkiye and Greece, underscoring the region’s strategic importance amidst broader global dynamics.

 

References:

Fahim, K. (2020) ‘Amid Mediterranean tensions, retired Turkish admiral grabs the spotlight touting supremacy at sea,’ Washington Post, 28 September. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/turkey-greece-blue-homeland/2020/09/26/15cf7afe-fc3b-11ea-830c-a160b331ca62_story.html.

Muller, C. (2022) ‘Opportunities and Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean: Examining U.S. interests and regional cooperation,’ Center for American Progress, 2 May. https://www.americanprogress.org/article/opportunities-and-challenges-in-the-eastern-mediterranean-examining-u-s-interests-and-regional-cooperation/.

Papadimas, L., Kambas, M., Rabinovitch, A., & Gumrukcu, T. (2022). U.S. voices misgivings on EastMed gas pipeline – Greek officials. Reuters. [online] 11 Jan. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/us-voices-misgivings-eastmed-gas-pipeline-greek-officials-2022-01-11/.

Stamouli, N. (2022) ‘EastMed: A pipeline project that ran afoul of geopolitics and  green policies,’ POLITICO, 22 January. https://www.politico.eu/article/eastmed-a-pipeline-project-that-ran-afoul-of-geopolitics-and-green-policies/.

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