A new equation needed in Eastern Mediterranean
There have been four major changes in politics in the last two years in the Eastern Mediterranean which have forced a new set of relations, or state of affairs in the strategically important region.
The first one was the Tahrir revolution in Egypt in 2011, ending the Hosni Mubarak regime and paving the way for Mohammad Morsi, the Western-educated, Islamic Brotherhood-backed new leader. Morsi hosted both Hamas and Fatah factions of Palestinians to carry out talks in Cairo and at the same time cooperated with Israel to ease the embargo on the Gaza strip, despite the strong rhetoric he uses against the Jewish state. Egypt controls the Suez Channel, the main passage between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean, crucial to oil and gas trade.
The second is the uprising in Syria. First it was thought that Bashar al-Assad would be just another domino tile to fall in the wake of the Arab Spring. But Assad was both more resilient then the West had thought, and was firmly backed by Russia and China as two permanent members of the UN Security council. Assad, supported by Iran and Iraq’s Shiite-origin Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, hosts a Russian naval base in the port of Tartus, the only Russian military base remaining in the whole Mediterranean.
Upon a call by Turkey, which shares a long border with Syria, NATO entered the picture by deploying anti-missile batteries there.
The third was the discovery of rich gas resources both around the island of Cyprus in the heart of the Eastern Mediterranean, divided between Greeks and Turks, and off the coast of Israel. Turkey objected to the Greek Cypriot government’s claiming rights to resources in the Turkish sector, too. Because of the frozen relations between Turkey and Israel due to the killing of nine Turks on their way to Gaza by Israeli commandos back in 2010, a flirtation has started between Israeli and the European Union member Greek Cypriots to make use of their resources together. But Israelis were looking for ways to transport their gas to Turkey in the meantime. This was all before the Greek Cypriot economy had officially spiraled down with Russians disappearing with all their money parked on the island.
The fourth was the long-awaited apology to Turkey by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, accepted by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and mediated by the U.S. President Barack Obama himself, over the 2010 killings. Right after the apology, the Turkish government asked the Turkish Çalık group to drop its partnership with the Italian energy company Eni, because of its partnership with Greek Cypriots regarding a big project to carry Russian oil from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and then via Israel to the Indian Ocean, bypassing Suez; a clear indication that the frozen project might be reactivated. And on the day, yesterday, that Erdoğan received an anticipated invitation from Obama for the 16th of May, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said that the most viable export route for both Israeli and – this is really important – Greek Cypriot gas to European markets was Turkey. Turkey doesn’t even recognize the Republic of Cyprus run by the Greek government and this alone shows that a lot is going on behind the kitchen doors.
When asked all about these, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu smiles with a “first things first” gesture; “We have to take all steps slowly and carefully”.