The presence of large gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean, known as “El Dorado” (the land of legendary gold), has led to great tensions between Turkey, Greece and France, and none of them is willing to give up the dream of accessing these valuable resources.
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In recent weeks, the dispute over exploration for natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece has escalated. Meanwhile, France has entered the battle over gas supplies in the eastern Mediterranean, which it has needed for decades.
Turkey, Greece and Cyprus are among at least eight countries claiming natural gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean. As the confrontation between Ankara and Paris is not a new event and has its roots in the past. Including an open battlefield in Libya and deep disagreements over NATO issues.
But this time the debate revolves around the share of gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean. France says the situation in the eastern Mediterranean is worrying and that Turkey should stop drilling in the area. It is estimated that there are approximately 2000 billion cubic meters of gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
The French newspaper Le Point reported that “the gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean have raised countries in the region.” And Turkey is trying to get its share of this cake. Since the discovery of the Noa gas field in this region in 1999, many other reserves have been discovered in the region off the coasts of Israel, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Libya.
“This soil is so rich that observers call it” the New Norway “(a metaphor for the country of Norway that has made its fortune using North Sea gas), Le Point wrote.
According to Le Figaro, Wood Mackenzie, the energy company, said that there are approximately 1900 billion cubic meters of gas, equivalent to 45 years of gas consumption in France.
Although most of these reserves have not yet been extracted, the hope for more discoveries in the region has aroused the appetites of the countries of the region, especially Turkey.
The French newspaper added that Turkey imports 90% of its gas mainly from Russia. Therefore, it seeks to benefit from the gas fields located in the eastern Mediterranean and far from its territorial waters.
French newspaper Le Point also writes that a bright future for natural gas is expected. Because of the existence of the world’s huge reserves of this substance. The use of this energy source is also expected to increase in the coming years.
The newspaper added that the exploitation of gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean is not without problems. As the extraction of these huge resources requires large investments.
Turkey has already started drilling
Recently, Turkey officially announced the launch of the Yavuz mission to start exploration for gas in the eastern Mediterranean waters, as the official Turkish News Agency (Anatolia) announced that Turkey – for some time – was conducting a large number of its naval warships patrolling the Aegean Sea and the East Sea Mediterranean near Crete and Rhodes Island. The activities of the new mission will run from August 18 to September 15, 2020 in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Previously, it was reported that Greek warships were also moving in these areas. And that the Greek forces are ready. The military presence of the two countries in the region increased in the past month, and Greece has warned Turkey several times in recent months against sending ships to the region to explore for natural gas.
Earlier in January, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he would start exploration for gas in the region agreed upon with Libya “as soon as possible”.
The project could affect areas of southern Crete, which are potentially rich in natural gas. In addition, from Greece’s point of view, this place is located in the so-called “exclusive economic zone of the European Union”. However, according to Turkey, although islands like Crete have territorial waters, they do not have a monopolistic economic zone.
The European Union declared Turkish exploration off the coast of Cyprus “illegal”. Indeed, with this designation, European Union member states have created a legal framework to impose possible sanctions against Turkey.
The European Union called for an immediate halt to Turkish exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. Josef Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, called on Turkey to immediately suspend drilling and exploration operations in the eastern Mediterranean and enter talks.
An unavoidable risk
One of the big problems facing Turkey is the lack of energy resources. That is why they entered the eastern Mediterranean to access these resources, and Turkish ships have been exploring for oil and gas in the Mediterranean for many years. Greece and Cyprus (the Greek part) are among the most prominent opponents of Turkey to the exploration operations in the eastern Mediterranean.
Meanwhile, Ankara claims that Greece intends to exploit a large share of the Mediterranean by using control of several islands off the coast of Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “the language of sanctions and threats” could not stop the country from drilling.
France’s response to Turkey’s drilling in the Mediterranean
Meanwhile, we have witnessed critical statements by French officials against Ankara regarding its actions in the Eastern Mediterranean. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted, noting that Turkey’s unilateral decisions to explore for oil and gas will create tensions. These measures must end for peaceful talks between neighboring countries and NATO allies. He also announced his decision to work with European partners, including Greece, to strengthen the French military presence in the region.
Macron also told in a press conference that in a telephone conversation with the Greek Prime Minister, he expressed his concern about what he described as Turkey’s unilateral decisions regarding oil exploration in disputed waters and called for the talks to stop.
The French president, who is trying to act as a mediator between Turkey and Greece but cannot turn a blind eye to the rich gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean, also called on Turkey and Greece to work together more to ease tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. In this context, the French and Greek navies conducted joint exercises. On the other hand, the Turkish president responded that Turkey would not leave even the slightest attack on Turkish ships in the eastern Mediterranean without a response.
Germany intervenes to calm tensions between the two parties
Amid announcements of French military reinforcements in the eastern Mediterranean and French support for Greece, which somehow exacerbated these tensions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to mediate between the two neighboring countries.
Deutsche Welle wrote that the tensions between Greece and Turkey are a source of great concern to Europeans. Germany, one of the most powerful countries in the European Union, which holds the rotating presidency of the Union, seeks to mediate between Greece and Turkey, two neighboring countries and members of NATO.
But this is not the first time that Merkel has mediated between Greece and Turkey. According to the German Defense Minister, Merkel wants to prevent war in Europe through mediation between Greece and Turkey.
The Anatolia News Agency reported that Merkel and Erdogan stressed, in a phone call, the need to resolve the conflicts in the eastern Mediterranean through consultations and in accordance with international law.
However, the Berlin mediation may be ineffective, as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned in a 24-hour telephone conversation between German and Turkish leaders during a visit to Switzerland that France should refrain from tensions in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. He said, “France must refrain from tensions, as they will not go anywhere with bullying in Libya, northeast Syria, Iraq or the Mediterranean.”