The French government stated a few days ago that France would support a military campaign against Syria regardless of the UN Security Council's blessing if Damascus bestows chemical warfare on the opposition. A provocation stemming from the plot is evidently brewing as terrorist groups besieging the Syrian government are known to have obtained a chemical arsenal from Libya, and Ankara's instructors are currently training the terrorists in Turkish camps to handle the deadly stuff. The plan is that a chemical attack against the civilian population would be blamed on the Syrian army, enabling international intervention in Syria.
If, as Washington might be planning, the Syrian regime collapses before the November presidential elections in the US, one of the consequences will be that the already strained relations between Turkey and Israel would sink to an even lower point. To grasp the connection, consider Leviathan, a constellation of hydrocarbon deposits in East Mediterranean discovered in late 2010 by America's Noble Energy… The grouping of deposits includes both Israel's Leviathan, Tamar, and Dalit fields holding already confirmed reserves and the promising sites in the Herodotus marine zone and on the marine shelves owned by Egypt and Cyprus. The US Geological Survey estimates the Leviathan total at 54-174 billion barrels of crude, the best guess within the bracket based on the already explored part of it pointing closer to 90 billion barrels.
According to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a thinktank of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Mediterranean basin also contains plenty of natural gas, and, moreover, the lion's share of it is to be found in Syria. Syrian geopolitics commentator Dr. Emad Fawzi Al Shuaibi wrote in his opinion piece titled «Syria an Epicenter of The Middle East's Gas War»: «It transpired when, in 2009, Israel began to produce oil and gas that the entire Mediterranean basin was drawn into the gamble and that either Syria falls victim to an aggression or the whole region will enjoy peace. It is widely held that the XXI century is going to be an epoch of clean energy. The unsealing of Syria's gas mystery cast a new light on the importance of the country: whoever controls Syria is in the position to control the Middle East and, after gaining the upper hand in Syria, will similarly gain access to the «building called Russia», as Empress Catherine the Great called it, and to China via the Great Silky Road. That, altogether, combines into world dominance as the XXI century will be the century of natural gas. This is the reason why the parties to the Damascus deal which lets gas from Iran pass Iraq to reach the Mediterranean shore and opens up completely new geopolitical space had serious reasons to say that Syria is the key to the new era».
Even if Syria is knocked out of the game, Cyprus, Lebanon, Palestine, and Greece would be claiming shares of the energy riches along with Turkey and Israel. The top league in the competition would clearly comprise the latter two as the region's heavyweights, plus the US companies appear to be keenly interested. Noble Energy is already into offshore test-drilling in the Israeli and Greek waters and, by the way, the lobbying behind the company's advancement is provided by former US President B. Clinton and, likely, by his wife and current US Secretary of State. H. Clinton visited Athens in July 2011 to talk the Greek government into accepting the US scheme of partitioning the upcoming energy reserves. Greek political analyst Aristotle Vassilakis maintained in a July, 2011 report that the US hoped that Noble Energy would nab 60% of the resources in question, with Greece and Turkey sufficing with 20% each.
Leviathan, a set of deposits given the name of a mythical marine monster, may prove to be a prime bone of contention in the Mediterranean. Minister for the EU affairs in the Turkish government Egemen Bağış warned that Ankara would launch a military offensive in the Mediterranean if Greece takes to exploratory drilling. Ankara also announced that, if Greece continues to drill wells in the Aegean Sea, Turkey would interpret the activity as nothing less than a declaration of war.
The US, Turkey, and Israel used to conduct trilateral military exercises called Reliant Mermaid in 1998-2009, but Turkey opted out of the routine in 2010 upon the discovery of Leviathan. The slide of the Turkish-Israeli relations and the dramatic Gaza Freedom Flotilla sail to the Gaza Strip seem completely explainable in the context – there is a steady impression that the dispute over energy reserves is inching towards an escalation and that Turkey is worried that Israel might put under threat Ankara's status of a regional leader, a credential meaningless without tight control over the energy and water resources around. It takes a grip on the region's natural resources to make Turkish premier R. Erdogan's dream of the Turkish primacy in the Arab world come true.
Israel reacted to Turkey's boycott by inviting the rival Greece to fill in the niche. The exercises now bearing the name Noble Dina took place in April, 2011 near Greece's Kastelorizo Island, just a couple of kilometers away from the Turkish southern shore, this time the scenario being to protect oil and gas production infrastructures from a hypothetic enemy attack. Appropriately, submarine fights were an element of the show, Turkey being the only country whose submarine fleet might conceivably target oil rigs in the Mediterranean.
A new round of Noble Dina – a joint effort by the Greek and Israeli air forces in concert with the US Sixth Navy – was held in March-April, 2012. The exercises took off at a US air base on Crete to unfold at the southern shore of Cyprus and to end in the Israeli territorial waters near Haifa. The maneuvering zone spanned the marine shelf of Cyprus contested by Turkey and the uninhabited Imia/Kardak islets at a distance of some 10 km from Turkey.
As stressed in an account released by the Greek Defensenet outlet, the enemy aircrafts during the exercise were assumed to have the characteristics closely matching the parameters of the park operated by the Turkish air forces. The blueprint's being centered around repelling an attack on oil and gas derricks was a feature that could not be misread in the current Mediterranean context, and it could not evade watchers that the exercises played out in direct proximity of Turkey and the southern shore of Cyprus. Bluntly put, the purpose was to imitate a conflict between Turkey on the one side and the pool of the US, Greece, and Israel on the other, with Turkish submarines conducting an offensive against the gas fields on Cyprus's shelf. A destroyer and a submarine, along with aircrafts and copters, were to ward off the attack. The Israeli air forces practiced shielding shelf and ground infrastructures from submarine-launched missile and torpedo strikes and fighting the enemy's – that is, obviously, Turkey's – aircrafts.
The conclusion is that Noble Dina acquired a completely new quality in 2012, becoming longer then ever and swelling to an unprecedented scale. Aware of the imminent confrontation with Turkey, Tel Aviv is trying to connect to Athens and Nicosia, and the military cooperation within the trio is already online. The message legibly sent to Ankara is that Israel is fully prepared to face a regional conflict should one erupt. As a response to Noble Dina, Turkey popped the Anatolian Eagle exercises, putting to work its Mediterranean fleet and dispatching three destroyers, a submarine, and a couple of torpedo-carrying boats to Cyprus's economic zone. Ankara, therefore, picked up the challenge and demonstrated that it does not worry about the standoff towards which the situation is drifting.
All of the above notwithstanding, Israel intends to construct a pipeline passing across the territorial waters of Cyprus to link the Leviathan fields to Greece, from where natural gas can be easily exported to Europe. Cyprus and Israel have reached a deal on where the divide between their territorial waters lies, without asking Turkey how the arrangement looks from its perspective. The rapprochement between Israel, Greece, and Greek Cyprus must be a headache to the Turkish government which fears that its privileged standing in the Middle East might be eroded.
Disputes over the rights to water resources in the Middle East can further contribute to the downward trend in the Israeli-Turkish relations, and, again, Syria is central to the corresponding disposition. On the one hand, the country is locked in a border conflict with Israel over the Golan Heights water reserves. On the other, Syria and Turkey habitually clash over the water of the Euphrates River. Back in 1990, tensions between the two countries went off-limit when Turkish technicians blocked the Euphrates flow to Syria for a month to fill the Atatürk Dam reservoir, causing the artificial Lake Assad near Aleppo to dry up.
Ankara sees control over water resources as a key component of its future might. The Turkish military openly assert that Turkey would become dominant in the Arab world thanks to building dams to tune up or down the water availability downstream. To this end, the Turkish administration is implementing the hyperambitious $32b Southeastern Anatolia Project of constructing 22 dams and 19 major hydropower plants, which will also enable the irrigation of extra 1.7 million hectares of territory. Upon completion, the project will make Turkey a self-sufficient country in terms of food supply but, as a side effect, will leave the water flow to Syria halved.
It must be noted that Turkey's capacity to manipulate the regional water supply grid is contingent upon its power over Kurdistan. Physically, North Kurdistan holds keys to the water resources of Upper Mesopotamia, which is the same as controlling all of Mesopotamia. That alone should explain Turkey's determination to occupy the northern part of Syria if the plan for an international intervention against the country materializes. Will Israel, another country keenly interested in handling the region's potable water, idly watch Turkey take steps as it wishes? No doubt, the relations between Turkey and Israel will be growing increasingly frictions in the long run, especially if Assad's regime crumbles in Syria.