In collaboration with major industrial countries like the US and France, several Mediterranean countries have discovered oil and gas resources under the sea bed. The aim of these countries is twofold: to achieve energy self-sufficiency, and to sell any surplus on the open market.
According to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), coastal states such as Egypt, Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (Gaza Strip), Lebanon, Syria, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot Authority have rights to the resources in the area according to their respective Exclusive Economic Zones.
In January, Greek Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt held a meeting in Cairo to announce the establishment of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum to cooperate in the production, consumption and marketing of regional resources. This would transform the eastern Mediterranean into a new energy zone and develop a regional natural gas market alongside the existing liquefied natural gas infrastructure in Egypt.
In the absence of any meaningful political engagement, the forum also aims to isolate Turkey from the eastern Mediterranean basin. In the aftermath of the Cairo meeting, several global energy companies — ExxonMobil America, Nobel, Shell France, Annie Italy, Qatar Petroleum, South Korea's Kogas, Israel Delta, etc. — have started to become more dominant in the region. For example, US multinational ExxonMobil stated that it had discovered a new offshore gas field near Cyprus. The Glaucus-1 well in Block 10 – in which ExxonMobil Exploration and Production Cyprus (Offshore) together hold 60 per cent interest – more than doubles Cyprus's estimated offshore resources. There are now concerns that the ExxonMobil gas discovery could worsen existing tensions in the area, especially as Cyprus has the support of the European Union to explore and exploit natural resources.
However, Turkey wants to exercise its sovereign rights in the eastern Mediterranean, which originate from UNCLOS and the decisions of the International Court of Justice. Contrary to Turkey's demand, though, the approach of the Greek Cypriot Administration is to develop economic relations with Turkey's allies by depriving Turkish Cypriots of energy sources in the eastern Mediterranean.
According to Anadolu News Agency, one of the most controversial issues in the region is the support given by the US to countries that are hostile to Turkey. This is done under the pretext of free trade, as we have seen in the Straits of Hormuz and the Malacca Straits against Iran and China, with the build-up of US naval forces in the Arabian/Persian Gulf and South China Sea respectively.
On 11 November, the EU announced a framework for sanctions against Turkey over its exploratory drilling operations off the coast of Cyprus. As the EU supports the Greek Cypriot Authority in this divided island, it announced the sanctions to block Turkey's regional geopolitical role. Simultaneously, the EU is considering the development of a gas hub in the Mediterranean in order to diversify Europe's energy sources and reduce dependence on Russia. The EU, it appears, does not want a powerful rival — in this case Turkey — in the region.
Using its rights as a guarantor in 1974, Turkey intervened on Cyprus after a far-right Greek Cypriot military coup which sought to unite the island with Greece. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus faces long-standing embargos on trade, transportation and politics in the region.
The current tensions between Turkey and the Greek Cypriot Authority centre on the exploration of the newly-discovered gas fields close to the island. These tensions escalated significantly after Turkey sent more drilling ships to the eastern Mediterranean in July.
According to energy experts, the sovereignty of Cyprus is not easily defined due to the island's special political status as drawn up by Turkey, Greece and Britain in the late 1950s during talks in Geneva. In an interview with TRT World, Enver Arikoglu, an associate professor of international law at Istanbul University, said: "The Republic of Cyprus [founded in 1960] is not a unitary state. It's a state with two communities and two regions, whose rights have been guaranteed by agreements [signed by Britain, Turkey and Greece)."
Turkey's Rear Admiral Cihat Yaycı has been accredited as one of the first persons to highlight the importance of an Exclusive Economic Zone agreement between Libya and Turkey. He mentioned Libya's role and effect on the efforts to limit the maritime jurisdictions in the eastern Mediterranean in his article here.
After Libya's announcement of its own Exclusive Economic Zone and its declaration that it is open to international agreements, it became obvious that one should evaluate this announcement from the point of view of Turkey. In his article, Yaycı analyses the Exclusive Economic Zones within the Mediterranean and assesses the possibility of concluding an international agreement between Turkey and Libya. With the provisions of the Law of the Sea and related decisions rendered by the international courts, it is possible for Turkey to sign a delimitation agreement with Libya given that both countries have coasts subject to delimitation agreements.
This would be a very important step for both Turkey and Libya to improve their relations on the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean, and a model for other regional actors to follow. In short, the preservation of Turkey's energy rights is key to maritime stability in the region.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.