Turkey-Libya deal seen as a game-changer in east Med

Turkey-Libya deal seen as a game-changer in east Med

This column in early June had announced Turkey’s preparations for signing a maritime demarcation agreement with Libya in a bid to protect its legitimate rights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and to disrupt the plans of Greece and Greek Cyprus to limit Turkey’s economic exclusive zone to around the Gulf of Antalya.

A deal with Libya was a rather interesting idea because Turkey has always been drawing its maritime zones in the region by using vertical lines and that was corresponding to potential demarcation agreements only with the Turkish Cypriot state and Egypt.

The idea of drawing diagonal lines to determine Turkey’s maritime zones was first brought to the fore many years ago by Rear Admiral Dr. Cihat Yaycı, who is also an expert on maritime law. He recently told a panel, “Turkey’s geographically inclined location stipulates its right to draw diagonal lines to determine its maritime zones and to sign demarcation agreements with Libya, Israel, and Lebanon.”

Turkey has materialized this creative look on the matter after it was, along with the Turkish Cypriot state, excluded from a regional initiative for the use of hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. That initiative had brought Greece, Greek Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, and Italy together for coordinating their hydrocarbon activities in the region and Turkey’s response to that was first to deploy naval forces in a show of force and then to launch their own drilling activities.

The third move came on Nov. 27, citing one of the diplomatic and legal aspects of the matter.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Libya’s head of the U.N.-backed government, Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, signed a memorandum of understanding that demarcates the maritime boundaries between the two states on the Mediterranean Sea, after months-long technical works.

As known, the MoU’s are also considered as legal agreements and there is no need for parliamentary approval on the Libyan side as there is no parliament due to the internal problems. On the Turkish side, it will very soon be ratified at the parliament and will take effect. The Turkish government will later notify the U.N. about the agreement and the coordinates of Turkey’s economic exclusive zones (EEZ) underlined by the deal with Libya.

This agreement with Libya is considered to be a historic one as it marks Turkey’s first EEZ deal with a littoral country except for Turkish Cyprus. Thus, it defines the western borders of Turkey’s EEZ in the eastern Mediterranean. Experts believe that it will increase Turkey’s continental shelf in the said area by around 30 percent.

According to the assessment made in Ankara, the deal with Libya has important consequences. They could be listed as follows:

v The demarcation line drawn by Turkey and Libya constitutes a shield between Greece, Greek Cyprus and Egypt. This shield will prevent Greece from signing maritime demarcation agreements with Egypt and Greek Cyprus. Greece has the intention to have the shores of its islands in the region from Crete to Meis (Kastelorizo in Greek) as a single and attached shoreline so that it could expand its maritime zone through agreements with Egypt and Greek Cyprus. This deal kills this option, Ankara believes.

v Greece and Greek Cyprus’ long-term plan was to limit Turkey’s EEZ to around the Gulf of Antalya which would cover an area of 41,000 square kilometers. Such plans have already been released through a map published by the University of Seville. Ankara says that these plans have now been disrupted thanks to the deal with Libya.

v The deal has strengthened Turkey’s hands in the region against Greece, Greek Cyprus and their plans to further isolate Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots. This deal will provide the direct influence of Turkey on the energy geopolitics of the eastern Mediterranean.

v The deal with Libya is Turkey’s first maritime demarcation agreement signed with a littoral country except for the Turkish Cypriots. It provides an important political and legal basis for Turkey’s future attempts. It also shows that Turkey is using all necessary diplomatic and legal means to protect its rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

To sum up, it would be no exaggeration to suggest that this deal with Libya stands as a game-changer in an already messy eastern Mediterranean. It shows that the only way for all the littoral countries to resolve pending problems in the east Mediterranean and benefit from the regional richness is an inclusive dialogue and diplomacy.