Sayed Ghoneim, PhD in Political Science, Chairman IGSDA.
U-Tokyo (ROLES & IGSDA) 2nd Seminar on 12 February 2021
With the increasing of gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean, the competition of the regional powers for these resources escalated as a threat to stability instead of turning into an element of stability in the region. Turkey pays efforts to convince Egypt and Israel that they meet loss because of their agreements with Greece and Cyprus. Based on this, speculation revolves around the prospects for competition and possible cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
- THE IMPORTANCE OF THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN.
- NATURE OF TURKEY, ISRAEL AND EGYPT’S RELATIONS.
- TURKEY, ISRAEL, AND EGYPT’S RIVALRY IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN.
- REMARKS AND EXPECTATIONS.
The Importance of THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN
- A strategic theatre located in the main global navigation route, full of economic wealth and vital military interests, surrounded with actor states of differing strategic calculations in two parties (Greece, Egypt, Israel and Cyprus on a side and Turkey on another side).
- A trade hub lending depth to the Suez Canal, especially after the recent addition of a new shipping lane in the Suez Canal, that doubled the daily capacity and shortened passage time.
- A source of energy and economic wealth for the countries overlooking the Eastern Mediterranean, and a source of energy diversification for the EU in front of the Iranian and the Russian Gas.
- A buffer zone against threats developing on Europe’s perimeter.
- An ideal region from which to monitor military and other goings on in the Middle East. And if the need arises, it can be used as a staging area for operations.
- Russia and Turkey’s recent involvement concerns a web of interests that includes the need for a more permanent and substantial physical presence in a space of strong strategic interest as it is developing footholds in Libya, particularly following their intervention in Syria and given the energy dimension, which is attested to by its participation in Egypt.
- An ideal theater of competition that can be used by several actors.
NATURE OF TURKEY, ISRAEL AND EGYPT’S RELATIONS
- Turkish – Egyptian relation:
Turkey risked its relations with the Mubarak regime betting on the success of the revolution in Egypt in 2011, so that Egypt became the main stop for the visits of the Turkish foreign minister, in addition to the Turkish president’s first visit to Egypt after the revolution, where he met with the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and he also met with a number of youth powers, revolutionary coalitions and representatives of Egyptian parties.
The radical change in Turkish support for the Egyptian government was clear seen through the initiative of the Turkish President Abdullah Gul to visit Egypt and met with many representatives of all political spectrums at the time, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Turkish government’s position was supportive to the Egyptian revolution as Turkey tried to open horizons for political and economic relations, and facilitate obstacles for investors, and facilitate travel to Turkey.
The reasons are that since Muhammad Morsi, a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood, assumed the presidency of Egypt, he rushed to obtain Turkish support to achieve his external ambition of establishing a regional group focusing on the Syrian crisis that would include Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia alongside Egypt. He failed to form the group as a result of Saudi Arabia’s refusal to deal with the Iranians, and it was the beginning of Morsi enjoying strong Turkish support. Erdogan and former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Egypt, on two separate occasions, to show an unprecedented level of support for the country’s new transition to democracy, representing Turkey as a democratic Islamic model that could help guide Egypt during its turbulent transition.
Morsi’s grip on power has diminished at a time when Erdogan aspired to a strategic partnership with Egypt, in which Turkey would be the main partner. Also signing a maritime border agreement with Egypt (considering Cyprus part of Turkey), and to form a regional alliance with Egypt to confront Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but the Egyptian Armed Forces was totally against the whole idea. Shortly after his speech in Cairo, the protests against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo intensified and became increasingly violent. Various attempts at dialogue between Morsi and the various political parties collapsed, and the Egyptian military leadership issued warnings that the army might have to intervene “to prevent Egypt from entering a dark tunnel.”
In mid-2013, former President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown, which led to the severing of Turkish-Egyptian relations that had grown strongly under the regime of Mohamed Morsi. Erdogan considered Sisi a coup and a tyrant and accused the Egyptian interim government of practicing terrorism. On the other hand, the Egyptian media accused Turkey of supporting the terrorist campaign against the Egyptian security services that erupted in the Sinai Peninsula immediately after Morsi was ousted from power. The Turkish ambassador to Egypt at the time, Hussein Awni Potzli, turned from an ambassador welcomed by the various spectrums of Egyptian politics to a persona non grata in the country, as he faced violent Egyptian demonstrations in front of the doors of his residence against his country. Consequently, Turkey and Egypt canceled joint naval maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean and the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested Potzli to leave the country.
Turkey’s position was clear that it is against what it describes as a “military coup”, and against what the West considered repressive measures practiced against its opponents, and Turkey opened its arms to the fleeing members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey continued to defend the ousted President Mohamed Morsi and considered itself defending the rights of a leader elected by the people, while emphasizing that it only wants good for Egypt, because the Arab world and the region need Egypt to remain strong, and that it does not intend any enmity with Egypt, and the Turkish president insisted Recep Tayyip Erdogan on describing President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi as a tyrant.
Hence, the Turkish-Egyptian relations became at the worst level, as the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Turkish ambassador and informed him that he had forty-eight hours to leave the country, and this is related to Erdogan’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood organization and his strong opposition to the road map in Egypt and the political hierarchy, leading to the election of Sisi as president in Egypt in 2014.
Since then, the regional policy between Egypt and Turkey has become more violent. In the summer of 2014, when the war broke out in Gaza, the US Secretary of State John Kerry rushed to work toward a ceasefire, Turkey and Egypt offered competing peace plans. Egyptian officials have made clear to their American counterparts that Turkey and Qatar are largely seeking to use Gaza to undermine Egyptian interests.
In Libya, Egypt and the UAE supported Khalifa Haftar’s military campaign against the so-called Islamic militias, which are supported by Turkey and Qatar. In November 2014, Sisi used Cyprus as card of pressure, where he held a tripartite summit with the Cypriot and Greek presidents to promote joint gas deals, which heralded an escalation of Turkish / Egyptian rivalry.
2. Turkish – Israeli relation:
Israel used to represent a common hostility to Arab nationalism and its Palestinian cause and to Iran, the Islamic State, which, if it continued with Iranian nuclear superiority, would have become a real threat to Israel’s survival. Today, and because of Iran’s insistence on its expansion and export of revolutions, and its constant provocation to its neighbors and its support for terrorist elements, Israel has been able to turn Iran into a common enemy for itself and some Arab countries. This seems to be in the interest of Turkey from the perspective of the Turkish-Iranian rivalry, but in fact it has increased the power of the Gulf states, which comes at the expense of Turkish interests in the region.
We remember Turkey’s position on the Gaza Strip, which was expressed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an angry dialogue with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos, January 2009. This is based on the premise that Turkey, the important Muslim state, is working positively towards the policies of the Palestinian resistance. But on opposite direction, Turkey supported Saudi Arabia’s position in Yemen in its beginning, and it also confronted Assad in Syria through accommodation with Israel.
The Marmara incident in May 2010 worsened Turkish / Israeli relations. The apology of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for this incident, which President Obama brokered at the end of his visit to Israel in March 2013, was going to open the possibility of stopping the deterioration of Israeli-Turkish relations and placing bilateral relations on a stronger basis, but the Israeli support for the secession of the Kurds worsened the relation between Turkey and Israel and the domestic political context has changed in Turkey as well.
The Turkish military was the main driver of its close defense and intelligence relations with Israel in the 1990s. The situation continued till Erdogan came to power as Prime Minister of Turkey in 2003 and during several years of his rule. The influence of the military on Turkish foreign policy was strong, especially towards Israel, but this gradually declined, especially after the failed Turkish military coup attempt in mid-July 2016, as Erdogan strengthened his authority while stripping the secular Turkish army of his powers; this is currently negatively affecting the degree of rapprochement between the Turkish army and Israel.
3. TURKEY, ISRAEL, AND EGYPT’S RIVALRY IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN (several actions and reactions):
Israel, Greece and Cyprus and Egypt have been trying to confront the Turkish gas exploration and military activities in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea by forming alliances and establishing formal institutions. However, Turkey continues its activities and emphasizes its determination to energy politics in the Eastern Mediterranean, trying to say that it’s also in the region. How the situation in the region ended up to this point?
First, it is worth to explain that the Mediterranean Sea has gained another strategic dimension since the wave of gas discoveries began in 2009, when Israel discovered the Tamar and Levitan fields with huge reserves of natural gas that exceeded Israel’s needs, which theoretically made it a self-sufficient country with the possibility of exporting the surplus. This coincided with the discovery by Cyprus of the Aphrodite field, which is located near to the borders of Israel’s economic waters and also has large reserves of gas, it could form the nucleus of ongoing cooperation and coordination between Israel and Cyprus, which culminated in reciprocal visits between high-level government officials as well as the signing of military cooperation agreements between them.
Since the first decade of the twentieth century, Egypt has been a gas exporter, as it used to export gas to Israel through pipelines that pass through the Sinai Peninsula, but after “Arab Spring”” and the insecurity that prevailed in relatively unpopulated areas, the pipeline was blown up several times by a terrorist group named “Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis”, which led to the suspension of the gas line to Israel in 2012.
Since the end of World War I, Turkey has been at odds with Greece over the division of the maritime borders between them, which led to the outbreak of military conflict between them several times as well as hundreds of attempts of mutual military harassment. Cyprus also has a land and sea dispute with Turkey, since 1974, Turkey has occupied part of the north of the island.
The Turkish dispute is based on its rejection of the 1982 maritime border demarcation project, as this gives it control over a small area of water despite the ruins of its coasts on three seas in the region.
In 2011/ 2012 The Egyptian Parliament of majority of political Islam tried to pass the decision to demarcate the maritime borders between Egypt and Turkey, which was previously rejected by the Mubarak regime, but Egyptian state institutions succeeded to bypass the decision, as it’s not matching the international law and UN laws and regulations organizing the demarcation the maritime borders.
In 2014, concession rights for oil and gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea were granted to several exploration companies, which led to the discovery of a series of gas fields with various proven reserves, the most prominent of which was the Zohr field, which is located 200 km away. How many Egyptian coasts along with the acceleration of infrastructure construction work to extract gas from the Zohr field, where actual production began in late 2017, which led to Egypt’s self-sufficiency of consumption in 2018 after it was a gas importer.
Since the year 2014, the Egyptian foreign policy has been active in concluding regional alliances with its neighbors to confront the Turkish maritime strategy, as the Egyptian-Greek-Cypriot rapprochement was the starting point with the aim of transforming Egypt into a regional energy hub for Egypt’s two liquefied gas stations, besides its geographical location close to the discovered gas wells, which led to the rapprochement of an Egyptian Cypriot, as the two sides signed an agreement in 2018.
The re-demarcation of the Eastern Mediterranean borders carried out by Egypt, Greece and Cyprus aimed at determining the dependency of energy sources, especially natural gas in that region, which disturbed Turkey as it considers Greece and Cyprus have ignored its right in this regard. It’s worth to be mentioned that Turkey does not see Cyprus as a whole country, at a time when the UN and the EU recognize whole Cyprus as an independent state with sovereignty represented by the current government in Nicosia. Hence Cyprus started exploration for natural resources in its economic waters.
In addition to the Egyptian-Cypriot agreement to demarcate maritime borders and share resources in 2013, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel have agreed on an “Eastern Mediterranean” project that provides for the construction of a gas pipeline from the newly discovered fields to transfer the pipeline, which will extend over 2000 km in the Eastern Mediterranean basin to Greece and Italy. Cyprus and Greece have also signed a separate agreement with Israel to transfer natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean basin via an underwater pipeline from the Israeli “Leviathan” basin and the Greek “Block 12 – Aphrodite” to the Greek island (Crete), then to Europe.
On November 20, 2017, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi attended an (Egyptian Greek Cypriot) summit meeting in Nicosia to discuss energy resources, specifically gas in the region, which Ankara considered its results as “null and void”. On the other hand, Cyprus, Israel and Greece held three joint maritime military exercises in March, June and November 2017, and in November 2017 Greece and Egypt also conducted joint maritime training.
In return, Ankara moved and issued a “navigational telex” to allocate a zone for Turkish military exercises, including the disputed blocks # (6, 7, 8, 9) that Cyprus declared its exclusive economic zone. The Turkish army has kept naval vessels (two frigates, an artillery ship, a scuba divers’ squad and a fuel transport ship) in the Eastern Mediterranean, after completing the exercises of the permanent naval group of NATO (7-16 November 2017), with the mission of securing the first Turkish ship “Dibsi Metro 2” designated for drilling and prepared to sail to explore for gas in the disputed sixth block.
With prior arrangements and coordination, the Cypriot drilling ship “SIPEM 12000” sailed to carry out drilling operations in the “Calypso” area in the sixth block inside the Cypriot economic zone in the Eastern Mediterranean. This may have developed the situation on diplomatic and security levels to military confrontations in the Eastern Mediterranean; Libyan crisis is included.
I argue that Erdogan at that time was thinking of turning from a reaction to an action position, continuing his diplomatic and security pressure in several directions to achieve his economic, political and security goals.
On the economic level:
- Guaranteeing a share in the energy resources of the Eastern Mediterranean, through the following:
- Creating conditions that allow Turkey sharing the economic waters and the wealth in the Eastern Mediterranean and not confining itself to the Gulf of Antalya.
- The possibility of affecting the Eastern Mediterranean gas traffic (Greek / Cypriot / Israeli / Egyptian) expected to be exported to Europe after liquidation it in Egypt.
On the political and security levels:
- Ensure that a loyal government rules Libya and other countries that achieve the Turkish interests and may support its ruling party ideology.
- Attempting to create a Libyan strategic depth opposed to Egypt; Tunisia and Algeria to the West, Sudan, Chad, and the countries of the Sahara to the South.
- Having a Turkish existence in Libya expanding its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya in front of Europe, the US and China (besides what it achieved in the Middle East).
On November 27th, 2019, Turkey signed two memoranda of understanding in Istanbul, the first was on security and military cooperation, and the second was on defining maritime spheres of influence. They announced that the agreement aimed to protect the rights of both countries stemming from the international law, in a move considered a gain for Ankara’s policies in eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The economic agreement includes a new demarcation of the Turkish maritime borders, as it defines the coordinates of the economic zone of Turkey. It also guarantees Libya an area of16,700 square kilometers, while increasing the size of the Turkish economic waters; since Turkey considers itself as wronged by the neighboring countries. There is no doubt that the main Turkish objectives in this are to compel Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt to return to discuss the issue of maritime borders and the division of wealth in the eastern Mediterranean with the inclusion of Turkey. The other Turkish objective is the continuation to create pressure cards on Europe; but this time in a way that threatens the movement of gas to be exported to it from the neighboring countries of the eastern Mediterranean, after its liquifying in Egypt.
The Turkish / Libyan security agreement includes the transfer of weapons, technical support, information exchange, security training and exchange of weapons systems, as well as the possibility of deploying Turkish forces to Libya for a period of three years to come, executing combined exercises and establishing a joint office for cooperation in the fields of defense and security between the two countries.
The two agreements give Turkey an opportunity to explore energy more broadly and not limit it to the Gulf of Antalya; on the grounds that Turkey has the longest coast overlooking the Mediterranean and that it is part of the eastern Mediterranean and that it can enjoy the rights there of like its neighbors and based on Turkey’s recognition of what it calls the “Republic of Northern Cyprus”; although Turkey is only country to recognize it in the world. There is no doubt that this agreement has been the last straw that has made Italy divert its support of Al- Sarraj government.
Russia and The Eastern Mediterranean
Putin’s patience was repeated and clear towards Erdogan, the most important of which was Turkish interceptor fighter shot down a Russian fighter bomber in November 2015 and a Turkish security officer publicly assassinated the Russian ambassador in Ankara during a live TV broadcast of a press conference in 2017.
These enabled Russia to achieve its interim objectives such as; ensuring freedom of passage through the Turkish Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits to the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the establishment of the “Turk Stream” Project to transfer the Russian gas to Europe and exporting the Russian S400 air defense missiles (the anti-American fifth-generation aircrafts) to Turkey, above all the Russians have succeeded in widening the gap between Turkey and its Western allies to an extent that may hinder Turkey to return to them.
Despite of the Russian / Turkish dispute in Idlib in Syria and Libya, Russia appears to have succeeded in achieving a greater presence against Europe, NATO, the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, which are the most important source of the threat to southern Europe.
China and rivalry in the Eastern Mediterranean
The recent tensions for the natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea exhibit the difficulties that are inextricably linked to the future of the Belt and Road (BRI) as well.
The recent tensions for the natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea exhibit the difficulties that are inextricably linked to the future of the Belt and Road (BRI) as well; wider Chinese economic and trade movements in the region.
In Greece, it is known that Piraeus seaport holds an important share of China’s trade with the European Union, in the time the Chinese companies have already started investing in Turkish seaports infrastructure.
In Turkey, in 2015, Chinese companies bought a 65% stake in the port of Gemlik (Gemport) in Bursa city overlooking South East Sea of Marmara (about 120km South Istanbul). Turkey views this process as an important first step in integrating Turkey into the Maritime Road of the (BRI).
In the time, the Chinese economic relations with Egypt constitutes a critical point for China’s trade because of the significance of the Suez Canal for intercontinental maritime trade from Asia to Europe. We find that China and Egypt concluded a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement in 2014, to make China the largest trading partner of Egypt, as Chinese investments in Egypt in recent years exceeded $ 7.7 billion, in addition to grants and loans exceeding $ 7.5 billion. Moreover, the Suez zone for economic and trade cooperation between Egypt and China “TEDA” has attracted 96 companies with investments of 1.25 billion dollars.
In Israel, we find that China also has the right to manage the Port of Ashdod in Israel for forty-nine years, in addition to infrastructure works in Haifa seaport.
All these seaports are in natural competition with each other to take a larger share from the increasing trade in the Eastern Mediterranean. Additionally, the increase in military presence of the U.S. and other NATO countries in the Mediterranean Sea endangers the security of existing Chinese investments and trade via the Mediterranean.
Mediterranean gas disputes constitute the first stage of the ever-complex journey of China’s going strategy. It seems that China prefers to remain more neutral in the politics of the region.
On the other hand, and in order for China not to lose its planned spheres of influence, it prefers alliances and conclude agreements with current governments and improve economic relations with them.
Remarks and Expectations
Turkey seeks to keep ties with Egypt; it will seek for cooperation and signing agreements with Egypt and Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean. Negotiations between Egypt and Turkey may Occur in 2021; EMGO continues.
Turkey will seek to convene an international conference to discuss organizing and dividing economic wealth in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Egypt will seek signing more maritime border agreements with other countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Future rivalry is on who succeeds to sign maritime agreements with more countries in the region; based on international law and UN agreement of maritime law.
Potentially, The U.S. and France will join the EMGO as observers; will China do?
As Putin succeeded to manage relations and competition between Turkey, Iran and Israel in Syria, I think he’s trying (somehow) to do same issue with rivalling countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region and Libya.
For achieving the largest possible gains and the success of the (BRI) in the Eastern Mediterranean, China may work to develop its diplomacy from non-intervention in other countries affairs to a more positive step, which is to pre-emptively defuse tension between concerned parties to prevent any potential conflicts by reducing tension between rivalling countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The politics of ports in the Horn: War, peace and Red Sea rivalries.
A Red Line for the Blue Homeland? The Maritime Border Demarcation Agreement between Greece and Egypt
Competing Claims for Gas in The Eastern Mediterranean
Why the Eastern Mediterranean is of Strategic Importance for Turkey?
The Strategic Value of the Eastern Mediterranean
Geopolitics of Energy: Gas Heats Up the Eastern Mediterranean
غاز إسرائيل يشق طريقه إلى أوروبا بعيدًا عن تركيا ومصر
Turkey’s Energy Confrontation with Cyprus
Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline Project
Why Turkey Is Raising the Stakes in the East Mediterranean
Turkey and the geopolitics of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean
Israel is Turkey’s Neighbor Across the Sea: Delimitation of the Maritime Jurisdiction Areas between Turkey and Israel
Six-nation Mediterranean Gas Group forms, without Turkey, to “strengthen regional cooperation”
How Tensions Are Rising Over Eastern Mediterranean Gas Fields?
Turkey’s complicated position in the Mediterranean Sea
Getting East Med Energy Right
Personal multinational networks and relations.
Other open sources.