The pipeline as a diplomacy and geopolitical tool. How the 7-year energy Trilateral may transform to a solid geopolitical/security Alliance.
With Drums of War echoing, amid the increasing tension between U.S.A. and Iran, the begining of 2020 will be remembered as the dawn of a New Day in South Eastern Mediterranean. The signing of the InterGovernmental Agreement for the materialization of the EastMed Pipeline in Athens, set in motion new geopolitical and energy developments.
Αnastassios Tsiplacos - Managing Editor
The Eastern Mediterranean was in a state of turmoil in 2019, mostly due to Turkey’s intimidating and aggressive actions, in support of its determination to pursue its “Political Vision 2023,” which portrays Turkey as a rising global player, a powerful mediator for peace and stability in the Middle East. Ankara’s decision to involve itself yet deeper in the Libya crisis and its effort to create “faits accomplis”, primarily at the expense of Greek, Cypriot, Israeli and Egyptian interests in the region, is expected to continue into 2020 and unless a solution is found, it could destabilise the region further and risk escalation of disputes and tensions.
EastMed pipeline: A modern dream in an ancient region
Egypt and Israel, that have invested heavily in energy exploration in the region, are alarmed by the Turkey-Libya Accord, which may threaten their ability to export gas to Europe. Egypt has called it “illegal and not binding,” while Israel has said it could “jeopardize peace and stability in the area.” Greece and Cyprus, which have long maritime and territorial disputes with Turkey, say the Accord is void and violates the international law of the sea. They see it as a cynical resource-grab designed to scupper the development of East Mediterranean gas and destabilize rivals. President Erdogan answered he would go ahead to have energy ships start drilling for oil and gas off Crete, with Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis warning the Turkish leader that provocations in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean won’t go unanswered (for more see “EASTMED: A pipeline of Peace or War?).
For Israel, Greece and Cyprus, as well as the U.S. the EastMed does not represent a simple gas supply pipeline, but a comprehensive strategic plan involving capital and other means, as well as the creation of security conditions in the region. The strong ties between Athens, Jerusalem, and Nicosia go well beyond the promotion of open communication links in the field of energy. The geopolitical/security perspective is crucial. Article 10 of the agreement contains provisions on measures to protect the pipeline. The relevant provisions are considered very important, as such clauses are not included in similar agreements.
This does not mean that the interests of states and companies converge in all cases. If one adds the mistake of the new Greek Government to pull out of the much more feasible EuroAsia Interconnector project, thus creating tensions in the relations between EastMed’s three participating countries, it becomes evident that the actualization of the pipeline project appears even more challenging.
Moreover, Egypt seems to be against the EastMed pipeline. The creation of mechanisms such as the “East Med Gas Forum,” however, shows each party’s level of dedication, including that of major stakeholders like the US, France, and Italy when it comes to reaching a point of mutually acceptable and beneficial agreements. What a better proof of this from the imminent meeting of the foreign ministers of Greece, Cyprus, France, Italy and Egypt in Cairo, on January 8, to talk about developments since the recent maritime borders and defense agreements singed by Ankara and the Tripoli-based government in Libya.
The Eastern Mediterranean energy corridor, after all, includes the EastMed gas pipeline but also potential LNG exports from the region to Europe. Eventually, it may also include exports from Greece, should hydrocarbon discoveries be made. LNG from Egypt’s existing liquefaction plant at Idku is already been exported to Europe based on existing contracts, and exports from the second at Damietta may follow later in 2020.
On the other hand, the deal for EastMed comes as Russia prepares to start pumping gas this year through two new pipelines to Europe –TurkStream and Nord Stream 2, early in 2020- despite US sanctions. In addition, the just-agreed Gazprom-Ukraine deal means that there will be no disruptions in the supply of Russian gas to Europe, which means that Gazprom could increase its overall gas supplies to Europe in comparison to 2019.
Russia is building TurkStream in two pipelines, each with an annual capacity of 15.75 bcm. The first pipeline is aimed at supplying Turkey and the second would run further from Bulgaria to Serbia and Hungary. Bulgaria hopes to be able to make shipments to Serbia by May and build the whole section by year-end. In fact, Russian gas producer Gazprom started shipping about 3 b.c.m. of gas to Bulgaria via TurkStream on January 1, replacing a route that formerly passed through Ukraine and Romania.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan are scheduled to officialy inaugurate TurkStream on January 8, which will set up an accelerated power struggle as regional countries set up axes against each other, a dangerous development that is reminiscent of the times preceding two world wars in the 20th century.
The InterGovernmental Agreement: Will the energy trilateral transform to a solid geopolitical/security alliance?
Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed on January 2 an InterGovernmental Agreement for the EastMed natural gas pipeline in Athens. The pipeline will run across the Mediterranean from Israel’s Levantine Basin offshore gas reserves to the Greek island of Crete and the Greek mainland, and then to Italy. The deal was signed in the presence of Greek and Israeli Premiers Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Benjamin Netanyahu, and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, by the energy ministers of the three countries. The three countries aim to reach a final investment decision by 2022 and have the pipeline completed by 2025 to help Europe diversify its energy resources. The fact, however, that the pipeline will be designed to carry 10 b.c.m. of gas annually, when Nord Stream 1 and 2 alone will reach 110 b.c.m. per year, suggests that Europe will not be weaned off Russian gas so easily.
Prime Minister Mitsotakis held private meetings with the visiting leaders, starting with President Anastasiades at the Maximos Mansion at 10 a.m. and followed by the Israeli premier at 2 p.m., after which there was a lunch. At 6 p.m., mr. Mitsotakis went to the “Zappion Mansion” in a trilateral meeting with messrs. Netanyahu and Anastasiades prior to the signing ceremony at 6.30 p.m. Afterwards, the three leaders made statements stressing that the EastMed project “is not a threat to anyone. Regional cooperation is open to everyone under one condition: that they respect international law and good neighborly relations,” sending a clear message to Turkey.
On the sidelines of the event, the respective energy ministers met at noon, and Greece’s DEPA and Energean Oil and Gas, signed a Letter of Intent for the supply of 2 b.c.m. of natural gas through the pipeline.
The Agreement also contains provisions on measures to protect the pipeline. The relevant provision of Article 10 is considered very important as such clauses are not included in similar agreements. Other important elements in the deal include the regulatory-licencing framework for facilitating the project and the common taxation framework that governs it, the prospect of incorporating additional countries, and the prospect of transferring additional quantities of natural gas from existing or new reserves that may be found in the future. It is noted that the preliminary technical study on the pipeline also foresees the transfer of quantities of natural gas from the reserves south of Crete, if any are discovered.
Among other, this Agreement which is also supported by the European Union and the United States, is a practical recognition and acceptance of Greece and Cyprus’ EEZs, and totaly ignores the Turkish-Libya EEZ defined with the recent MoU between Ankara and the Tripoli’s government. This fact annoyed Ankara -to say the least. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy commented on the EastMed Agreement “The signature of the agreement on the EastMed natural gas pipeline project is the latest instance of futile steps, aiming to exclude Turkey and TRNC in the region. Any project disregarding Turkey, who has the longest coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Turkish Cypriots, who have equal rights over the natural resources of the island of Cyprus, cannot succeed. We remind the proprietors of the project that such sordid plans will continue to fail in the future, as they did in the past.”
The EastMed Project sees Israel, Greece and Cyprus as partners that can link their energy policies to Europe. This potentially puts the alliance of Israel with the two smaller states -having less expertise in pipelines, weak economies and small geopolitical footprint- at odds with powerful countries, Russia namely. The question then for EastMed is whether all the talk and the signing of agreements will result in action. Cyprus, Greece and Israel are all complex democracies. In contrast, larger, more authoritarian, states can build pipelines faster. What with all the regional rising tensions and the according high stakes, many wonder if EastMed will be ultimately completed. US support, which Washington has expressed explicitely in every occasion, is certainly a big plus. However, the rising tensions in the Middle East, may draw much of its attention and resources for the moment. Therefore, EastMed could certainly use the addition of more partners, from the East Med Gas Forum perhaps, that may contribute to funding, gas and defense, transforming it from a trilateral to a multilateral partnership energy project.
So, whether the pipeline is built or not, Turkey’s behavior has prompted several countries to take action…
Supporters and Adversaries of the EastMed pipeline
ISRAEL apart from facing a general election in two months, the country’s third in less than a year that has increased political instability, maintain as its primary concern the U.S.-Iran confrontation and the possibility of esacallation of hostilities with Iran based militias in Syria and Iraq. Even more today, after the death of Commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, who led the powerful Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The strike is a serious escalation of US’ growing confrontation with Tehran, that may have drastic and unforeseen consequences that could ripple violently throughout the Middle East.
Israel is preparing for Iranian strikes. The Foreign Ministry and security officials have placed Israeli embassies and consuls around the world on high alert. Some of the country’s most popular tourist sites, including the ski resort at Mt. Hermon, closed, and the IDF are on alert. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to Israel from Athens ahead of schedule due to the security situation.
On top of all this, one must not forget that mr. Netanyahu is fighting for his future. He was indicted in November on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, however has denied any wrongdoing and asked Parliament to grant him immunity from prosecution. Perhaps the latest developments in Middle East may be another “kiss of life” for his political career. If he succeeds to form government after the imminent elections, it is certain that the EastMed project will be accelerated.
Back to the EastMed Agreement, international analysts were puzzled why Israel was trying to keep a low profile lately. In fact, the pro-Erdogan newspaper “Daily Sabah” had recently pushed the notion that Israel and Turkey could resume cooperation, but the current political issues kept Turkey and Israel far apart. The paper reported that Israel’s official radio station “KAN” claimed that Turkey said it was ready to negotiate with Tel Aviv on transferring israeli natural gas to Europe. Aditionaly, the report suggested that israeli officials welcomed too the idea of initiating negotiations.
On the contrary, Turkey’s intransigence and increasing aggresiveness, forced Tel-Aviv to take the initiative, setting geopolitical issues of the South Eastern Mediterranean in motion. Prime Minister Netanyahu recommended that his country, Cyprus and Greece immediately sign the agreement to get work started on the EastMed pipeline. After diplomatic efforts and communications between the leaders of the three countries, Greece, Cyprus and Israel reached the intergovernmental agreement which was signed in Athens.
In order to understand the current feelings of mr. Netanyahu for Turkey, one has to remember what happened during the past 6th Trilateral Summit “3+1” at Jerusalem. While mr. Netanyahu presented all the pipeline options -including the turkish one that seemed to be the more optimum- he pointed the region’s map to the US Secretary of State Pompeo and said: “This cannot happen ever, the pipeline won’t pass through Turkey.” Off the record reports said that Mr. Pompeo’s alleged answer was “I fully understand you!” (see also “Jerusalem’s Trilateral: The Day After…”).
In fact, Israel sees that EastMed pipeline can link its energy policy to Europe, and competes with Turkey, which seems one step ahead, because together with Russia built the TurkStream pipeline to Europe, that will be officialy inaugurated on January 8 in President Putin’s presence.
Speaking in Hebrew in his opening remarks during the ceremony in Athens, Prime Minister Netanyahu said “It is an historic day for Israel, which is becoming a powerful energy nation. We have established an alliance in the Middle East, an alliance that is of enormous importance to the energy future of Israel, to it becoming an energy power, and for stability in the region.” Israel recently begun operations at the Leviathan offshore platform, paving the way for the rig to start extracting an estimated 22 tr.c.f. of gas trapped under the sea.
The “3+1” scheme and the “Eastern Mediterranean Act” as catalysts…
United States of America is strongly committed to the “3+1” trilateral and the EastMed Pipeline. In fact, nothing could have happened, or may happen in the future without Washington’s “heavy weight” support. Important new developments, both geopolitical and practical, led to its renewed focus on energy development and security in the Eastern Mediterranean. The U.S. has been very supportive due to its desire to counteract Russian gas to Europe, aiming to have American gas instead, as well as other sources of gas, including Eastern Mediterranean gas. At a geostrategic level too, the proposed EastMed pipeline is an extremely important project that complements everything that US has been doing with the “3+1” meetings, supporting the flourishing Greece-Israel-Cyprus relationship.
So, the US Department of State’s Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR) has welcomed the EastMed gas pipeline Aggreement signed between Greece, Cyprus and Israel. “ENR applauds the continued cooperation between Greece, Cyprus, and Israel in the development of energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the agency said in a message on its Twitter account. In a separate message, ENR also said it was “pleased to see Greece, Cyprus, and Israel advance energy cooperation in the region – continuing our work from the 3+1 in August – by signing the Tripartite Agreement for the East Med Energy Corridor.” The ENR comments were retweeted by US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt.
In addition, the “Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019”, will allow Washington to fully support these trilaterals through energy and defense cooperation initiatives. The legislation also seeks to update U.S. strategy in recognition of consequential changes in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the recent discovery of large natural gas fields, and a deterioration of Turkey’s relationship with the United States and its regional partners. It also requires the Administration to submit to Congress a strategy on enhanced security and energy cooperation with countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as reports on malign activities by Russia and other countries in the region. This legislation essentially upgrades the geopolitical roles of Greece and Cyprus. Considering the high priority given to the region, the Act also suggests that the trilateral alliance between Greece, Israel and Cyprus could serve as vehicle for the new dynamic in the region.
Nevertheless, although US President Donald Trump signed the appropriations bill that includes the “East Med Act”, according to reports, he objected to several articles of the bill, including parts of the EastMed Act and particularly with regards to Congress’ authority over issues of military assistance and participation in international forums.
Nevertheless, with this Act Washington is formally conveying the message that it is no longer basing its strategy in the region having Turkey at the forefront, but that it is investing in the area of diplomacy and energy on the trilateral cooperation scheme comprised of Greece, Cyprus and Israel, which is acquiring a vital role in the formulation of the US security policy in the region. Athens, Nicosia, as well as American supporters of the East Med Act point out that this law, which also stipulates the lifting of the embargo on the supply of American weapons to Cyprus, is not some kind of anti-Turkish move but rather reflects the new reality of multilevel cooperation, that the US has with credible partners such as Greece, Cyprus and Israel, and western-oriented Arab countries like Egypt and Jordan.
Last but not least, the 1st Ministerial Energy Summit, in Athens on August 7, encouraged regional cooperation energy projects. Meeting in Athens, the energy ministers of Greece, Cyprus, and Israel -Kostas Hatzidakis, Georgios Lakkotrypis, and Yuval Steinitz, as well as US Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Frank Fannon– discussed their cooperation in the field of energy, while affirming their shared commitment to promoting peace, security, and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean region. During their meeting in Athens, the four Energy Ministers reaffirmed the support of their countries for the implementation of the EastMed gas pipeline, a project of major significance for the energy security of the EU that also establishes a strategic link between Europe and Israel.
US support, which Washington has expressed explicitely in every occasion, is certainly a big plus for EastMed. However, the rising tensions in the Middle East, may draw much of its attention and resources for the moment. The strike on Commander Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, is a serious escalation of US’ growing confrontation with Tehran, that may have drastic and unforeseen consequences that could ripple violently throughout the Middle East.
General Suleimani, who led the powerful Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, was the architect of nearly every significant operation by Iranian intelligence and military forces over the past two decades. For 23 years, he has been the equivalent of the J.S.O.C. commander, the C.I.A. director and Iran’s real foreign minister. He was also believed to be very close to Ayatollah Khamenei, and was seen as a potential future leader of Iran. His death is a staggering blow for Iran at a time of sweeping geopolitical conflict.
In killing General Suleimani, President Trump took an action that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had rejected, fearing it would lead to war between the United States and Iran. United States officials are braced for potential Iranian retaliatory attacks, possibly including cyberattacks and terrorism, on American interests and allies. Maybe, President Trump decided to cross the Rubicon, in order to overcome his imminent impeachment trial and enter the pre-election period with his political shares high…
GREECE has significant energy potential prospects in its ultra-deep waters, South of Crete and the Ionian Sea, while also diversifying its own sources of supply. As a member of two trilaterals with Cyprus, Israel, Egypt plus the U.S., as well as the recently formed East Med Gas Forum (EMGF), Greece believes that natural gas plays a strategic role in the low-carbon energy transition of its economy.
At the same time, Greece lives in a complicated neighborhood. Athens, that has an openly hostile relationship with fellow NATO member Turkey, is inching towards a point-of-no-return with the Turks’ increasingly authoritarian President Erdogan, over his actions in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. Greece’s already difficult neighbour is becoming even more unpredictable, if not downright unhinged. Turkey no longer seems bound by rational thinking and balance of power considerations. Tensions in the Aegean, have been rising rapidly in recent months, bringing us to what is arguably the most dangerous point in Greek-Turkish relations since after 1974 and/or 1996.
Greece acknowledges only well that, while bilateral and multilateral strategic partnerships are important, no one will fight Greece’s battles for it. Nevertheless, having allies in its corner will be crucial to averting the possibility of a conflict. Just as the threat of use of force is sometimes the best way to deter a confrontation, the existence and advertisement of alliances can contribute to this becoming unnecessary.
The 6 month newly elected government inherited the EastMed project and Ankara’s increasing aggressiveness. In response to latter’s moves, has embarked on a wide-reaching diplomatic offensive. More specifically:
* started technical talks in Rome (30/12/19) on the possibility of demarcating an EEZ between Greece and Italy.
* signed, on January 2, with Cyprus and Israel in Athens, the agreement to build the EastMed pipeline.
* on January 7, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis held crucial talks with US President Donald Trump at the White House.
* on January 8 the foreign ministers of Greece, Cyprus, France, Italy and Egypt will meet in Cairo, to talk about developments since the recent maritime borders and defense agreements singed by Ankara and the Tripoli-based government in Libya, as well as tackle the “rapid developments” in Libya and “ways to push efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement” between rival administrations there. On the same date, technical talks on EEZ demarcation are scheduled with Egypt.
* on January 17 East Med Gas Forum (Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Italy, Palestinian Authority, US) will take place with the participation of France.
* near the end of January the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will meet with the French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss about regional developments.
Athens is seeking to strike a delicate balance between avoiding a further escalation with Turkey and safeguarding its national interests. The Greek government appears to be easing the rhetoric toward Turkey in order to avoid setting the mood for conflict -which according to Athens is not on the cards- and creating a feeling of panic. It seems reasonable, given that polarized language helps perpetuate, and often escalate, tension while at the same time putting off investors. It’s all fine, as long as this strategy does not lead to complacency, as long as real problems are not swept under the carpet, and as long as it does not interrupt international efforts by Greek diplomacy to create a network for condemning and discouraging turkish provocations, to the extent that this is of course feasible.
Until yesterday, Greece was in most cases a step behind Turkey, which maintains the initiative. It became painfully evident in recent past, that the failure to submit coordinates determining the boundaries of the Greek Exclusive Economic Zone in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea did not result in a more self-restrained Turkey, but instead a more uncontrolled one. Now Athens made a significant geopolitical step forward, showing that turkish threats have no weight on it. At the same time, Greece needs to deepen its alliance with Israel and Cyprus and take the necessary measures to enhance it. In order to succeed it, the Greek government is obligated to submit its coordinates in order to protect the minimum, i.e. to determine the areas that deems to be part of the Greek continental shelf. It needs to adopt a strategy that will force Turkey into accepting (a) a peaceful settlement (b) on the basis of international law -most probably before the International Court- and c) the delimitation of maritime zones in which it exercises its sovereign rights in the Aegean and now also in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will meet President Trump in Washington, on January 7, trying to hide Athens’ disappointment over his affection, on public display, for Turkish President Erdogan and over NATO’s provocatively neutral -purportedly, at least- stance on the Greek-Turkish dispute. He also plans to brief President Trump on Turkish violations in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean and the threat they pose to international stability and regional security, as well as reiterate that Greece “will not permit any Turkish activities that would infringe upon Greece’s sovereign rights.”
Bearing with him the freshly inked Intergovernmental Agreement for the EastMed Pipeline, together with last October’s Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) between the two states, as well as the continuation of their Strategic Dialogue, he will try to capitalize upon as much as possible. Moreover, he will seek to highlight Greece’s role as a pillar of regional stability, in an effort to clarify U.S. attitude as well as to extract a hint of commitment, at least, for support to Greece against Turkey’s increasing agressiveness and future provocations.
Nevertheless, the timing of his visit is rather unfortunate, due to the rising crisis with Iran, which will certainly occupy US President’s mind mostly, as well as the rest of the American political leadership, being their top priority. In this context, the Greek delegation may not expect to achieve its goals at full. Under these circumstances, however, it is expected to try their best. Mr. Mitsotakis will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos, Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis, Education Minister Niki Kerameus, in order to brief their counterparts and the rest of American political leadership, about mutual areas of co-operation and investment oportunities in Greece.
The Fortress Crete
When attempting to plan the defence and security of a complex grid of offshore/onshore energy infrastructure, such as the EastMed Pipeline, which its bigger part runs through an enormous region such as the Southeast Mediterranean, one cannot avoid focusing on the major island-“aircraft carrier” that dominates the region’s routes: Crete.
Its strategic importance for the Central and the Eastern Mediterranean region had been recognized since antiquity. Nowadays, the “Achilles Heel” for the EastMed pipeline is the vast expanse that lies between Cyprus and Crete, which poses a challenge for security along the length of this energy route.
Souda Bay is the second in importance naval base for the Greek fleet after its main Skaramangas naval base on the island of Salamina, adjacent to the port of Piraeus. It is no wonder that Crete hosts the Souda Bay Naval and Air Bases where U.S.A. and, generally, NATO forces are accommodated, which is the second in importance naval base for the U.S. 6th Fleet and NATO’s as well. The Souda port facilities are huge with the larger installation being Quay K-14 constructed with NATO funds. Its length, about 300 m, and width, about 100 m, allow an aircraft carrier to berth and it is the only NATO naval base to provide such facilities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The recent landing of four CV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor planes and two C-130 Hercules military cargo planes at Souda, which will be deployed in potential operations to evacuate American nationals or officers from Iraq’s wider region, underscores its increased strategic significance, given that Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey is in closer proximity to Baghdad (for more see “NATO in the Eastern Mediterranean: The Haze of Energy War”).
CYPRUS since 2003, established a strong legal framework through maritime demarcation agreements with its neighboring states. Subsequently in the delineated marine areas south of the island, research areas were identified. It did not include maritime areas that are either adjacent to the Occupied Territories, or on side opposite Turkey. Major oil companies undertook to explore and exploit these Plots. Alongside legality, financial interests were created. Thus, Cyprus took the initiative of the moves and substantially challenged Turkey’s hegemonic position.
Turkey is trying to restore this “upset” in its hegemonic position by using power. Since 2013 it has spent nearly $1 billion to acquire a fleet of seismic research and drilling vessels. As of May 2019, when the Fatih drill ship appeared west of Cyprus, things were developing rapidly. Ankara has dispatched drilling and exploration ships escorted by turkish military vessels to Cypriot waters four times this year, sparking protests from Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, the European Union and the United States. Ankara, against all protests of the major stakeholders, is now planning to deploy a fifth exploration convoy.
The Republic Of Cyprus possesses no Navy of Air Force, and hence is militarily helpless in the face of Turkey’s actions. It is seeking to respond through diplomacy. The European Union has criticized Turkey’s moves, and threatened sanctions. Rather than rely on European promises, however, Cyprus is developing its relations with local powers similarly concerned at Turkey’s transformation into an aggressive and irredentist power, as a partner of the trilateral scheme “3+1” with Israel, Greece and the United States, and Egypt as well. The strategic value of the island is obvious as, among other, the routes of the proposed EastMed and EuroAsia Interconnector will pass through its area.
Even more, US State Department officials describe Cyprus as “a force for stability, democracy and prosperity and a valuable US partner in the important region of the Eastern Mediterranean.” The US is working with Cyprus on a wide range of issues, including combating money laundering and terrorism and enhancing maritime and border security. The same officials added that Washington is committed to working with its allies and partners in the Eastern Mediterranean -including Cyprus- to protect stability and prosperity in the region. They also reiterated US support for the trilateral scheme comprising Greece, Cyprus and Israel and underscored Washington’s backing for the process to resolve the Cyprus problem based on a bizonal, bicommunal federation model.
When attempting to plan the defence and security of a complex grid of offshore/onshore energy infrastructure, such as the EastMed Pipeline, which its bigger part runs through an enormous region such as the Southeast Mediterranean, one cannot avoid focusing on the second major island-“aircraft carrier” that dominates the region’s routes: Cyprus. A particularly strategic parameter for Cyprus is the fact that, owing to its insular nature and its distance from both the Asian and African coasts, the island has a disproportionately large EEZ and FIR in relation to its land area. Cyprus’ really large EEZ is due to the provisions of the new 1982 Law of the Sea convention. The very large Nicosia FIR is one of the benefits of the British legacy, as its limits were defined at a time (1947) when Cyprus was still British territory.
Alllies such as Israel, with a very small airspace and a limited FIR, need a much larger airspace for their Air Forces to practice in, which requires application and approval by the air traffic management authority of the state controlling the neighbouring FIR. Today of course this is possible due to the excellent Israel-Cyprus relations.
ITALY’s Minister for Economic Development Stefano Patuanelli, whose portfolio includes Energy, has sent a letter of support for the EastMed project to his Greek counterpart, Environment and Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis. Rome is expected to finalize the EastMed deal with its signature at a subsequent date, although in May 2019 the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had expressed concerns to the Poseidon project, the last section of the pipeline connecting Greece with Italy.
In any case, it’s posture is rather ambiguous towards the project. One has to keep in mind that Italy retains significant economic relations with Egypt and Russia as well, which they both don’t eye EastMed positively.
TURKEY will try to obstruct the construction of the EastMed pipeline in any way it deems appropriate. Turkey’s President Erdogan is reportedely infuriated with this development, judging from his recent uttelrly polarized declarations. One can only wonder whether he will try to preempt future actions and decissions of the Greece-Israel-Cyprus trilateral, with a more daring and aggressive high risk move in the next weeks, which may evolve to an uncontrolable crisis.
Against this backdrop, Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez has spoken of the possibility of granting marine plots in areas that are included in the agreement signed with Libya. That is, south of Kastelorizo and East and South of Crete. “With the help of God, in the coming months, i.e. within 2020 under the Maritime Definition Agreement we have signed with Libya, we will quickly begin the works of plots concession,” the Turkish energy minister said.
“Political Vision 2023,” portrays Turkey as a rising global player, a powerful mediator for peace and stability in the Middle East. The Vision statement specifically notes the place of energy in foreign policy, and highlights Turkey’s approach to energy trade as a “common denominator for regional peace.” It is clear that turkish government openly associates the country’s political and economic stability with its regional energy-related interests. In addition, Turkey has set the ambitious target of becoming an energy hub, not only to generate additional revenue, but also to acquire more geopolitical influence in the region.
Turkey’s moves is a gradual effort to entrench its demands in the Eastern Mediterranean and to test the resolve of parties with interests in the region and especially Cyprus’ EEZ, such as the United States, Israel, Egypt, Greece, France and Italy. In its effort to find alternative energy sources for its internal consumption, as well as for the realization of its strategic aims to become a significant peripheral stakeholder, Turkey strives to subverse the current status in the region with high risk actions and statements. Libya too, is now part of the Turkish foreign policy strategy to expand its sphere of influence in the region.
Turkey is trying to assert itself across the swath of Iraq, Syria and now all the way to Libya, with its eyes set on having power not seen since the Ottoman Empire more than 100 years ago. Pro-government media in Turkey and Libya are preparing public opinion for the possibility of greater Turkish involvement in the conflict.
The Turkish parliament recently ratified a motion authorizing the government on sending troops to Libya, in support of the conflicted country’s U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) upon a formal request for military support from Turkey, in a move that would ensure continued Libyan support for Ankara in its maritime disputes with Israel, Greece and Cyprus. The bill allows Turkey to deploy troops to Libya at any time in the next year.
Immediately after, President Donald Trump called his Turkish counterpart to discuss the situation in Libya, as well as bilateral relations and regional developments. Erdogan and Trump “stressed the importance of diplomacy in resolving regional issues,” the Turkish Presidency said. The White House, however, announced that the U.S. President said to mr. Erdogan that “foreign interference complicates the situation in Libya”.
The first question that came to the minds of many observers was what gift the U.S. President had given his Turkish friend this time. President Trump, however, has clearly shown he sides with Egypt’s President Sisi, a man the U.S. president has referred to as his “favourite dictator.” So, mr. Trump may have just showed the limits of his love for the turkish President. Apparently mr. Erdogan is a lower-tier friend compared to the egyptian President Sisi.
Nevertheless, mr. Erdogan’s immediate anwer was to announce, in an interview with CNN Turk, that Turkish military units had started moving to Libya to support Fayez al-Serraj’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli. Ankara will sent a Turkish lieutenant general leading senior Turkish military personnel, together with paramilitary forces, which will coordinate with the combatant forces in Libya as well as provide training and expertise on the ground, Erdogan said.
President Erdogan’s Libya plans also threaten the country’s rapprochement with Russia, which supports Haftar’s forces in Libya. Russia has responded to Turkey’s moves in Libya by escalating the Russia-backed Syrian government assault on jihadist-controlled Idlib province in Syria. Mr. Erdogan sent a delegation to Moscow last week to discuss Libya and Syria, but the two sides could not agree. More than 200,000 people have already fled the fighting in Idlib towards the Turkish border. Therefore, President Putin’s scheduled visit to Turkey to open the TurkStream natural gas pipeline on January 8 has become even more important.
In order to garner support for his Libya plans, mr. Erdogan made a surprise visit to Tunisia, requesting the government there to open a corridor to transfer military support to the GNA. Turkish media said Tunisia and Algeria had agreed to support Turkish plans in Libya, the Tunisian presidency however denied any such agreement, saying that it did not support any side in Libya.
Last but not least, Egypt, perhaps the most important adversary of Turkey in the region, sees itself as an Eastern Mediterranean power and will not accept Ankara setting the rules. Moreover, it is concerned by Turkey’s attempts to meddle in Libya after Ankara decided to send troops to Tripoli. More active turkish military involvement in Libya would make things worse. As a late development, Cairo has approved sending Russian-made tanks to Haftar’s forces. Egypt will “temporarily” deploy the tanks in a bid to avoid the UN anti-armament resolution, according to reports. Following the conclusion of the battle and the achievement of Haftar’s goals, he is set to return them to Egypt.
The Turkish government has thus found itself isolated diplomatically on its ambitious Libya policy, both inside and outside the country, and is also most likely to show the limits of its military power: Ankara will not be able to support troops in an area where it cannot provide air and naval cover. In the Middle East, the only country that backs Turkey in Libya is Qatar.
On top of all this, Turkey has to choose side in the recent crisis between U.S.A. and Iran, following the recent killing of General Suleimani in a U.S. drone strike in the Iraqi capital. Turkey and Iran have long been regional rivals, but the relations between two countries have been bourgeoning in recent years. Iran, Turkey and Russia started the Astana process in 2017, to help efforts to resolve the conflict in Syria, despite the fact that Tehran and Moscow support Bashar Assad government while Ankara backs Syrian rebels. Not only Tehran, but also President Trump will try to put pressure on Ankara to choose a side. He will use every way to engage mr. Erdogan in this issue or to show him on his side.
President Erdogan will certainly try to grab the opportunity to play his mediating role, in order to enhance Turkey’s profile as a peripheral big stakeholder. So, Ankara is going to great lengths to reduce tensions between the U.S. and Iran. “Turkey always stands against foreign intervention and regards the recent U.S. attack in Baghdad with this same understanding,” President Erdogan said in a televised interview. He added that despite all efforts and international initiatives, it has not been possible for U.S.-Iran tensions to be resolved.
Ankara’s organized plan in Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean, presented by the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) to the Turkish government, was drafted in cooperation with the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense. It foresees an intensification of the Turkish navy’s presence throughout the Eastern Mediterranean basin. It also stipulates continuous exploratory and drilling activities within the EEZ of Cyprus, while also calling for pressure to be brought to bear on Qatar to withdraw state-owned Qatar Petroleum from the consortium with US company ExxonMobil, which is active in block 10 of Cyprus’ EEZ.
The future direction of events is likely to depend on the extent of turkish growing insecurity as well as international pressure. There are concerns that Turkey will make a fresh move in the Eastern Mediterranean in order to stay ahead of any development either in Libya, or sanctions from Washington. Nicosia fears that, in a bid to heighten tensions, Ankara might send a drillship to the island’s south, to Block 1 which has yet to be licensed, a move that would likely create practical problems for Cyprus’ energy program.
In addition, Ankara could test Greece’s resolve by sending an exploratory vessel to a maritime block inside the Libyan EEZ as claimed in the recent Accord. This would create a precedent within the Zone, which Greece says for the most part lies within Crete’s continental shelf. Whether TPAO, with the aid of the Turkish Navy, tries to conduct energy exploration further North -particularly in the area from Kasos and Karpathos to Rhodes and Kastellorizo- it would be evidence of Ankara wanting to escalate tension in the direction of militarizing the crisis.
President Erdogan struggles to destabilize the region in an effort to win time, being squeezed between the United States and Russia more than ever before. The defection of heavyweights and former allies from his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the past year has weakened the domestic position of mr. Erdogan, prompting the Turkish president to resort increasingly to military and rhetorical muscle-flexing. After returning empty-handed from a NATO summit in December, mr. Erdogan has offered to send troops to Libya and deployed drones to Northern Cyprus to support drilling activities the EU has branded illegal.
As well as putting Turkey on a collision course with Greece and Cyprus, it ratchets up tensions between Ankara and the EU, adding to ongoing disputes over migration policy and wider questions over Turkey’s role in NATO. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s confrontational moves over the past year have left officials in Brussels and Washington wondering just how far the Turkish president might take strategic estrangement from the West and rapprochement with Russia.
Western officials hope that Turkish president will hold off escalating his confrontations to the point of crisis, as Erdogan’s dream of crowning two decades of Islamist AKP rule by refounding the Turkish Republic as the new founder of the country on the centennial year of its creation in 2023, draws near. However, the more pressure he feels on a political and geopolitical level, the more unpredictable or even dangerous the situation will become.
What should be understood is that Ankara’s policies are designed by a solid group of adventurists circling around mr. Erdogan, who, instead of standing up to his delusions of grandeur, seem to encourage him to pursue more daredevil gambling. The resolve of Turkish President and his team in the pursuit of a high-stakes game should not be under-estimated. This is not without a rationale: the rudderless drift in Europe and the disarray in Washington provide a perfect setting for raising the stakes. President Erdogan has long realised that, to have a say in a world in disorder, his government can and should cross the lines and do its best to benefit from fait accompli situations. Throughout 2020 we will watch Erdogan’s Turkey pushing the boundaries for irredentist adventures, backed by the notion that Erdogan will do his best to endorse President Trump, his only base of support in the West, appart perhaps from Germany.
President Erdogan is launching a game-changing offensive in the entire Eastern Mediterranean and he may succeed, unless the European Union’s major actors master their courage and pre-empt his move. Or U.S.A., Israel and Egypt decide that Turkey poses too big a threat to be left uncontained. However, with the emerging crisis in the Middel East, the odds of that happening are quite remote. Expect a storm ahead…
The Major Security Questions
Military might and military means have become more important for littoral states and stakeholders regarding several critical issues ranging from energy competition to political signaling. Thus, the Eastern Mediterranean is witnessing more ambitious defense modernization programs and a significant increase in game-changing naval developments. Over the past decade, and while gas fields were consecutively being discovered, the countries of the region, as well as the major stakeholders, were entering into a peculiar sort of arms race. This was no coincidence. Valuable national resources discovered at sea require naval and air forces for their safeguarding.
All stakeholder states seem to be able to safeguard the part of their EEZ, where the energy resources are located and where their own production infrastructure is being developed. However, a major security issue arises concerning the vast sea area between Cyprus, the Dodecanese and Crete. Through this area will pass the routes of the proposed EastMed and EuroAsia Interconnector pipelines and in conclusion it shall be the area via which the energy transfusion to Europe shall take place. Therefore, significant security issues arise primarily during the preparatory-planning phase as well as during the future pipeline construction phase. Pipelines at such depths, once laid, are relatively safe of asymmetric threats, as there is no such international precedent, but such a possibility should not be ruled out. Surveillance and providing security over such a large maritime area requires:
- Constant aerial surveillance: Navy co-operation and surveillance aircraft, such as Greece’s P-3Bs which are being upgraded, designed to cover large distances, are a good but extremely expensive solution. Constant surveillance using long-range UAVs may be a solution with a reasonable cost. Today, available UAVs such as the Israeli Heron and Hermes 900, the American highly sophisticated MQ-9 Reaper/Predator B as well. UAVs can remain over an area being monitored for over 24 hours.
- Local presence or readiness of naval units of appropriate size for patrols on the high seas even in adverse weather conditions, but also capable of dealing with a variety of different types of threats. The most suitable ships are considered to be the size of a frigate or larger, having extensive air-defence capabilities (for more read Report#3 “Energy Wars: The security of the energy routes in the South East Mediterranean”).
After the Agreement what?
The signing of the EastMed gas pipeline Intergovernmental Agreement between Greece, Cyprus and Israel will bring the three countries closer together. It will certainly strengthen relations between them at a critical time for the EastMed pipeline, promoting closer cooperation. Despite the undoubted political backing of the pipeline, even from the US, to build it needs to be both financially viable and to secure buyers for the gas it will carry. Both of these are facing major challenges.
The question is whether there is the prospect of sufficient gas to underpin a 12-15 b.c.m. line across the Eastern Mediterranean at a competitive price. Probably not yet. Or at least not enough to keep the line full for a significant proportion of its operating life. This depends on markets that control demand and prices, so that companies can provide the required investment and technology to enter into purchase, sales, and construction contracts. Political intentions alone will not move projects forward. Therein lies the true challenge: East Med gas is expensive, for now at least, to develop and global gas prices are and will remain low, making exports difficult. With the cost of gas in Israel, before it enters the pipeline, being more than $4.50/million btu, and the cost of the pipeline estimated between $7-10 billion, the price of gas in Europe will need to exceed $8/million btu -which is not likely- before the EastMed become financially viable. For similar reasons, not even a pipeline to Europe via Turkey is viable.
Europe has plentiful supplies of cheap natural gas at prices this pipeline would not be able to compete with. Not to mention that during 2020 the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) from Ajerbaijan’s “Shah Deniz”, via Turkey’s TANAP, together with the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IBG) and the Turkstream 2 from Russia through Bulgaria, shall begin their operations and will flood Central Europe with natural gas, not to mention Nord Stream 2.
Drilling off Cyprus and Lebanon will lead to more gas discoveries in 2020, but the global glut of energy supplies and EGD will prove to be major challenges to the export of East Med gas to international markets. Egypt, moreover, will continue with the successful development of its energy sector and Israel will finally export its first gas to Egypt.
Overall, 2020 is expected to be another challenging year for energy, both globally and in the Eastern Mediterranean. At the end of the day, however, whether the EastMed pipeline materialises will not be decided by pure economics, but alongside the politics of this ancient region. And it may take a long time to pay back, pipelines however do have a habit of having a twist at the end of their tale…