Gas Games in the Eastern Mediterranean are Threatening Europe
Pyotr ISKENDEROV | 26.08.2017 | OPINION

Gas Games in the Eastern Mediterranean are Threatening Europe

The European Commission is offering European consumers the so-called Southern Gas Corridor, which provides for the supply, in particular, of Azerbaijani and Central Asian gas along the Turkey–Greece–Italy route. The project’s potential participants have their own interests, however, and are divided by long-standing antagonisms that are turning the corridor into a military and political delayed-action mine.

Turkey, which is traditionally reluctant to play by the European Union’s rules, is playing a particular role here. Ankara’s plans to build an Israel–Turkey pipeline are being superimposed on the desire of the Turkish elite to occupy key positions in the development of offshore natural gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, primarily around Cyprus. These plans are unleashing a whole host of problems between Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, while, at the same time, affecting the interests of Israel, as well as Egypt and Libya, which are claiming their rights to the continental shelf. The world’s leading oil and gas companies are also pursuing their own economic objectives in the region, the most active of which are the French company Total and the Italian company ENI. 

The current focus of contention is the offshore «Block 11», situated in the territorial waters of Cyprus. Turkey, which is also speaking on behalf of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, has already sent a frigate, TCG Gökçeada, to the region. The frigate’s commander has been ordered to use whatever measures necessary to counteract ‘undesirable’ activity around the continental shelf. But any actions by Nicosia and Athens in support could be deemed ‘undesirable’, since Turkey’s official position is that all the gas resources on Cyprus’ continental shelf belong not only to the Greek Cypriots, but also to the Turkish Cypriots. And by the latter is meant the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. 

Speaking in July at the World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated: «What we expect from anyone who takes sides in the developments in Cyprus is that they should refrain from steps that might pave the way for new tensions in the region. I would like to remind them that they could face the risk of losing a friend like Turkey, not just in the region, but anywhere and in any field».

Ankara has already sent its own flotilla to the potentially oil-rich regions of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, including the drilling vessel Barbaros Hayrettin Pa and several navy vessels. 

Athens has not stood idly by either, officially declaring that Greece will respond to Turkey’s «countermeasures against the development of Cyprus’ ‘Block 11’» and that the country is «ready to defend its sovereign rights». In this regard, it is worth remembering that in 1993, Greece and Cyprus adopted the Defence Doctrine of the Single Area, which aims to jointly react to an aggression by another country.

Israel, Libya and even Egypt are showing an increased interest in the deposits – each considers them to be extensions of their own continental shelf. And this interest is being reinforced by concrete military measures. The Israeli Ministry of Defence, for example, has signed a $420-million contract to equip the country’s navy with special systems to defend gas fields and navigable waterways. The deal is intended to supplement an earlier purchase of four Sa’ar 6 warships, which will be used to protect Israel’s economic waters in the Mediterranean Sea. As for Egypt, there is growing opposition to Turkey in connection with Ankara’s support of Qatar, which, in turn, is openly sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt.

Rivalries surrounding the gas fields of the Mediterranean shelf could mean that the possibility of constructing one of the world’s longest gas pipelines between Israel, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece and Italy (more than 2,000 kilometres) comes to nothing. The estimated cost of the project stands at more than $6 billion, some of which the project’s participants are planning to obtain from the funds of the European Commission as part of the notorious ‘diversification’ of energy supplies. In this project, the bulk of the gas will come from Israel’s Leviathan gas field, the reserves of which amount to around 613 billion cubic metres of gas and 39.4 million barrels of gas condensate. «We are confident that in the future, Europe will buy gas produced in the Eastern Mediterranean», stated Israel’s Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources, Yuval Steinitz. «Intensive talks are currently underway on the construction of two pipelines. One of these will stretch to Turkey and then on to Europe. The other pipeline will go through Southern Cyprus and Greece to Italy».

The Balkans could end up the biggest loser in disputes over the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean, and calls from Brussels and Washington to diversify energy sources are hardly helping. There will simply end up being nothing with which to diversify Russian gas imports, especially given the current confrontation between the US and the EU on US sanctions against Russian energy projects. By imposing sanctions against Moscow, America is «restricting economic cooperation with Russia in order to foist US shale gas on Europeans. Resentment is growing at the dishonest way the US looks after its own interests at the expense of others», writes the German newspaper Handelsblatt

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