From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Sep 13 2011 - 17:23:54 EDT
Turkey's Threat to Israel's New Gas Riches
By <http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC10.php?CID=18> Simon
September 13, 2011
Ankara's warning that Turkey will stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting
gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean poses a direct challenge to U.S.
On September 8, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Aljazeera
that his government had taken steps to prevent Israel from unilaterally
exploiting natural resources in the Mediterranean Sea. "Israel has begun to
declare that it has the right to act in exclusive economic areas in the
Mediterranean," he stated, apparently citing Israeli plans to tap newly
discovered offshore gas reserves. Israel "will not be the owner of this
right," he warned.
In other remarks, Erdogan declared that the Turkish navy would protect
future aid ships bound for Gaza in order to prevent a repetition of the 2010
flotilla incident, in which Israeli commandos killed nine activists
attempting to break the blockade. These comments came just days after the
release of a UN report condemning the deaths but justifying Israel's
blockade -- a judgment that prompted Ankara to drastically reduce diplomatic
relations between the two countries and freeze their substantial military
cooperation and trade.
By September 9, both governments seemed to be stepping back from a
confrontation over any future humanitarian convoy. One Turkish official
reportedly said that Erdogan had been "misquoted" and taken "out of
context," while Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office countered
a media report attributed to the office of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman
about potentially supporting the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in
its conflict with Turkey. Even so, the potentially more problematic issue of
offshore natural gas rights looms large.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea gives each country the right to
exploit resources in an "exclusive economic zone" up to 200 nautical miles
from its coastline, but maritime border agreements with neighboring states
(including offshore neighbors located less than 400 nautical miles away)
still need to be negotiated. In the eastern Mediterranean, this issue came
to the forefront after Israel discovered substantial offshore gas reserves
estimated to exceed current consumption levels several times over. Such
large-scale findings offer the probability of substantial energy
independence and likely surpluses for export.
Neighboring Egypt is already a key player in the international natural gas
market, while Lebanon and Cyprus are considered geologically likely to have
significant offshore reserves of their own. The first exploratory drilling
off Cyprus is set to begin next month -- a development that could result in
even more threatening rhetoric from Ankara.
Role of the Cyprus Dispute
Although Erdogan's September 8 comments conflated the gas and Gaza blockade
issues, the real key to understanding Turkey's current squabbles with Israel
is the unresolved dispute over Cyprus. In the 1960s and 1970s, tensions
between the island's Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking communities --
backed, respectively, by Athens and Ankara -- often seemed a greater danger
to regional peace than differences between Israelis and Palestinians. Since
1974, when Turkey sent troops to the island to support the Turkish Cypriot
community and block any union between the majority Greek Cypriots and
Greece, the island has been divided, with UN forces interposed between the
Frequent attempts at reconciliation have failed. With Ankara's backing,
Turkish Cypriots have established the notionally independent Turkish
Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is bolstered by the presence of more than
30,000 Turkish soldiers. Yet no country other than Turkey has recognized the
TRNC -- a fact that continues to infuriate Ankara. Meanwhile, the
Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus has become a member of the European Union
and is considered to represent the entire island.
The recent discoveries of natural gas under the eastern Mediterranean seabed
have seemingly prompted Ankara to renew its diplomatic campaign on behalf of
Turkish Cypriots. Erdogan reportedly stated last week: "Turkey, as a
guarantor of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, has taken steps in the
area [of the offshore resources], and it will decisively pursue its right to
monitor international waters in the east Mediterranean." Such a policy could
put Turkey at odds with all the littoral governments of the area, from the
Republic of Cyprus to Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria:
* Cyprus. Ankara is annoyed that the Republic of Cyprus signed a
maritime border agreement with Lebanon and another with Israel. In 2008, the
Turkish navy reportedly came dangerously close to ships carrying out seismic
surveys in Cypriot waters, alarming Washington. On September 8, the Greek
Cypriot government issued a statement protesting Ankara's claim that the
island's plans to explore and exploit offshore reserves are not in line with
international law and do not facilitate resolution of the Cyprus problem.
"The Cyprus problem cannot be solved with threats," the spokesman noted.
Ankara's anger with Cyprus will likely grow after July 2012, when the island
holds the EU presidency for six months. Although Turkey has already cooled
its enthusiasm for joining the union, it may well become irritated by the
prestige and enhanced diplomatic influence that EU leadership will confer
upon Cyprus. Indeed, Ankara has said it will freeze ties with the union
during this period.
* Israel. The discovery of the huge Leviathan gas field in 2010, close
to the Israel-Cyprus maritime border, has generated optimism that similar
abundance might be found in nearby Block 12, which lies in Cypriot waters.
One way of exploiting such reserves would be to establish an export-oriented
liquefied natural gas facility on Cyprus, to be operated jointly with
Israel. Yet Turkey has already condemned the idea.
* Lebanon. The Lebanese parliament has yet to ratify the signed
maritime border agreement with Cyprus, in part because Beirut disagrees with
the Cyprus-Israel accord and the Israel-Lebanon maritime border it implies.
Iran and its Hizballah surrogate have accused Israel of seizing Lebanese
offshore gas fields, even though none of the Israeli discoveries made thus
far are anywhere near the disputed line. Ankara, already sympathetic to
Hizballah, may be tempted to take sides in this dispute despite concern
about Lebanon exploiting its own offshore resources.
* Egypt. Cairo already has a maritime border accord with Cyprus,
signed in 2003 and ratified in 2004, as well as a framework agreement for
resolving ownership of resources that cross the median line. Ankara's desire
for good relations with Egypt probably trumps any concern it might have
about this accord, and Erdogan gave no sign of raising the issue during his
trip to Cairo yesterday.
* Syria. As an oil and gas producer, Syria is expected to look
offshore for reserves at some point in the future. In addition to a maritime
agreement with Cyprus, Damascus will also need to draw an offshore line with
Turkey. This will be problematic because of the Turkish province of Hatay, a
finger of coastal territory that Damascus has regarded as Syrian land in the
past. Although President Bashar al-Asad declared the issue resolved during a
2004 visit to Turkey, no details were given, and Syrian television continues
to give the weather forecast for the area as if it is a part of Syria.
Washington has a strong interest in eastern Mediterranean countries finding
and exploiting offshore reserves. For example, Houston-based Noble Energy is
leading the drilling in both Israeli and Cypriot waters. U.S. policy would
also be well served by peaceful resolution of the Cyprus dispute, which is
fast becoming yet another hindrance to Turkey's EU aspirations.
Accordingly, U.S. officials must emphasize to Ankara that its recent
rhetoric is incompatible with being recognized as an important diplomatic
partner of the United States and Europe. Erdogan's latest comments came
shortly after Turkey accepted Washington's request to host a radar station
intended to warn of potential Iranian missile launches against Europe and,
in the future, the United States. Ankara cannot be permitted to enjoy the
benefits of a strong relationship with Washington while undermining U.S.
objectives in the eastern Mediterranean.
Simon Henderson is the Baker fellow and director of the
3&newActiveNav=researchPrograms> Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The
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