Turkey launched its offensive attempt for exploration of gas a year ago and so far has shown its seriousness in finding hydrocarbon resources. Recently, presence of Oruc Reis research vessel, with the support of Turkish naval warships in the region and launching of Navotex and seismic activities which was expected to come to an end on September 1st has been extended to September 12.
Since the discovery of significant gas reserves in the region a decade ago, countries in the Eastern Mediterranean margin have been involved in renewed disputes over maritime borders. While international laws offer the necessary solutions, however it seems that deep differences between Athens and Ankara, with Turkey’s decision to increase energy exploration activities in Eastern Mediterranean, is one side of the coin; because presence of countries such as France or dispatch of fighters from the United Arab Emirates and EU threat to impose sanctions on Turkey persuade us to have a correct re-reading of the regional events.
Beyond energy competition, there is some kind of regional or geostrategic competition that has pushed Turkey to be more decisive against several players. Under the current situation, it appears that several countries in the region are in competition and tension over possession of significant gas fields. These competitions over maritime borders and ownership of hydrocarbon resources have paved the way for national competitions; but on the other side of the coin, the reason for the tensions turns back to the regional air-naval arms race and taking advantage of the safe island of Cyprus for strategic purposes. Especially, since Turkey has taken steps by buying some Russian missile system and adopting a severe hostile attitude towards the Zionist regime and moving along with some of the goals of Iran and Russia in the Middle East region.
The Turkish government, arguing that islands should be excluded from consideration of maritime borders between countries, considers Greece’s claim to patent rights as controversial. Ankara criticizes Greece for its claim over having “maximum” position and says that the small island of Meis, or Castellorizo, is about 520 km off the southwest coast of Turkey and is considered as a continental shelf that covers almost half of the Turkish Gulf of Antalya. When Turkey, based on this fact, issued a naval warning to conduct reconnaissance excavations, the Greek military considered such a warning as a danger and became concerned about the conflict over this island. Subsequently, Greece deployed its troops on the island of Castellorizo in the form of tourist barges and boats which provoked outrage of Turkish nation and politicians. Turkey has called the move as provocative and illegal and has reacted to it to such an extent that Omar Celik, a spokesman for the Justice and Development Party, described Greece’s action as “piracy” and termed Greece’s attempt to arm the island as an example of piracy in the Aegean and the Mediterranean.
Many European allies are seeking to establish a balance between Turkey and Greece, but support of Paris for Athens has provoked strong reactions in Ankara. Meanwhile, Greece’s talks with France and other countries on upgrading military equipment have not only caused serious concerns, prompting NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to mediate military technology-related affairs, but also lifting of the 33-year arms embargo against the Republic of Cyprus. In response to the ban on Russian warships entering into the Eastern Mediterranean, the military support of some Persian Gulf states for Cyprus, along with the EU threats, has raised fears in Turkey of possible new scenarios for putting the country in isolation in the coastal waters. As Turkish President Erdogan has stated, no one can limit Turkey, which has the longest coastline in the Mediterranean, to the shores of Antalya. Turkey is determined to defend its maritime rights and those of the people of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Greek media report on the purchase of 18 French-made Rafael fighter jets; meanwhile Greece, Italy and the Republic of Cyprus are conducting a joint three-day military exercise in the south of the Crete Island, all of which are involved in escalating tensions. Although the military maneuver between Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Cyprus was a pre-arranged plan, the coincidence of this maneuver after the Greek maneuver with its allies has led to being considered as a serious reaction by Turkey in the region. As tension rises in the Eastern Mediterranean, Ankara and Athens have called on their allies for support and demanded the international community to mediate between them.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass considers any spark of war in the region as a tragedy for the European Union. That is why Angela Merkel in a telephone conversation with Erdogan called for de-escalation of tensions and resolving the issue at the diplomatic negotiating table; but European powers appear to be on the side of Greece and Cyprus and, according to EU Commissioner Charles Michel, are trying to implement a stick-and-carrot policy. Even European foreign policy Chief Josep Borrell has set September 25 as the ultimatum date for Turkey to defuse tensions, saying that if tensions continue, Turkey and its politicians will be subject to EU sanctions. Reacting to these remarks, Justice and Development Party Deputy Chairman Numan Kurtulmus said that neither Turkey is afraid of stick clubs nor it is fooled by carrots.
Meanwhile, Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a decisive speech at the opening ceremony of a hospital in Istanbul by saying that: The time of colonization of powers is over. Turkey’s activities in the Eastern Mediterranean are the result of its pursuit of justice. Therefore, they either have to understand the language of politics and diplomacy or endure painful experiences.
Such a firm stance shows that the present tension in the Eastern Mediterranean is of vital importance to Turkey. As was mentioned, Turkey, in addition to offering a political-military membership, follows the Turkey-Libya agreement to establish an exclusive economic zone and consolidate its geopolitical position in the continental shelf and increase its sovereignty along its Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean coasts and forming a platform for the solution of Northern Cyprus crisis which has been fruitless since 1974. Noting that Turkey has the political, economic and military power to tear down the imposed immoral plans and documents, the Turkish president also spoke of his country’s readiness for any win-win negotiations.
It should be noted that the necessary strategy in Turkish foreign policy in the past has enjoyed stability in the Aegean waters. Based on its experiences, Turkey first exerted the necessary pressure, stated its origin, waited for the outcome of the escalation of tensions, and finally, with regard to the circumstances, sat down behind the negotiating table and implemented its demands. It seems that this time again Ankara being confident of this issue and that the EU will not be able to escalate tensions or wage a war will take easy steps; of course, provided that the internal situation will be in sync.