Date: 27/10/2020 Time: 17:34
Barry Shaw – International Public Diplomacy Director, Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
No sooner had the ink dried on the Israel, Greece and Cyprus EastMed gas pipeline deal, than Turkey began its threatening posture against the deal by claiming that Israeli natural gas reserves under the Mediterranean belonged to Istanbul.
The deal, which includes constructing a subsea 1,900 km pipeline to supply an energy-strapped Europe with 10 billion cubic meters of gas annually by 2025, would diversify Europe’s energy resources.
The energy ministers of Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed the initial agreement in Athens in early January 2020.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hami Aksoy, claimed that the project ignored the rights of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots to natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
To Israeli ears this is like saying that, because Turkey invaded Cyprus and continues to occupy the northern part of that island, Istanbul has the right to claim whatever lies to the south east of Cyprus. This is little more than a claim of thieves.
Actually, it has more the taste of sour grapes. Literally so.
Israel had been negotiating in good faith with Turkey to pump its natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean through Turkey and into Europe, but that was before Erdogan decided to change his ideological direction and get nasty with Israel in support of Hamas and the Palestinians.
Sour grapes indeed. Another apt expression would be cutting off your nose to spite your face.
So far as Israel was concerned, there seemed little point in progressing, in good faith, with a partner that had become a threatening adversary.
The atmosphere between the two countries soured to the extent that Israeli tourists no longer felt safe vacationing in Turkish resorts. Instead, they packed their bags and discovered the charm and beauty of Greece and Cyprus. And this turned into fostering joint commercial and strategic interests.
In an effort to cause problems for the Israel, Greece, Cyprus pipeline deal, Turkey quickly struck a deal with war-torn Libya and then claimed that the European pipeline crossed their non-existent but future maritime economic zone.
To keep the peace, Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli Energy Minister, diplomatically said, “We are ready to discuss some kind of energy cooperation also with the Turks. We are not against the Turks but we are very much in favor of the EastMed gas pipeline project.”
In June 2020, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, invited other Mediterranean countries to join the natural energy alliance. Italy was mentioned, as were both Egypt and Jordan who are starting to benefit from the supply of natural gas from Israel’s Leviathan and Tamar gas fields.
Turkey, however, remains the obstacle despite the fact that the EastMed agreement was ratified on July 21, 2020.
Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci, said the agreement “contradicts geographical facts and was decided on purely political concerns,” a statement that flies in the face of the huge economic benefit the deal gives not only to the three main initiators but to Europeans who will enjoy cheaper and ecologically preferred energy at home and work.
In short, Turkey has to decide if it wants to be a reasonable partner in the Israel-European natural gas strategy, or continue to play the spoiler.
If it chooses to take the latter route, the European Union will need to take a long hard look at Erdogan’s Turkey and decide if it truly belongs in the EU.
Turkey claims to straddle both Europe and Asia. It seems to be shooting itself in its European foot partly, but not exclusively, over the EastMed agreement.