what you need to know about the escalating tensions in the Mediterranean

After several weeks of tensions in the Mediterranean, Greece and Turkey have stepped up military maneuvers in recent days. The two countries are fighting to share water but also, and above all, the search for hydrocarbons. Explanations.

Announcements about military exercises conducted in the Mediterranean come from all sides. Open war is still a long way off, but the escalation of tensions between Athens and Ankara is indeed continuing.

On the one hand, Turkey announced on Thursday, August 27, that it would conduct military exercises, including shooting drills, on September 1 and 2 outside the Turkish city of Iskenderun, northeast of Cyprus. .

On the other hand, “Cyprus, Greece, France and Italy have agreed to distribute a joint presence in the Eastern Mediterranean under the Quadripartite Cooperation Initiative (QUAD)”, the Greek Ministry of Defense announced on Wednesday, August 26. This exercise, in which three Rafale planes, a frigate and a French helicopter participate, will continue until Friday 28 August.

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Between the Turkish navy and the European ships currently at sea, the Mediterranean had not felt such a military presence for many years. US ships are also present as part of the NATO missions, but the United States does not seem to want to participate that far. The destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill thus carried out an exercise with the Greek Navy August 24, before making a new one with the Turkish Navy August 26th.

Turkish and European naval forces in the Mediterranean © France 24

“There is an intensity of military movements in the Mediterranean, which is quite rare,” confirms Hugo Decis, a military specialist at the Ministry of Maritime Affairs at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), contacted by France 24. “We are facing military forces that are accustomed to in this type of deployment, but the context is tense and we are never sure of an incident that could degenerate. “

Greece and Turkey, which came close to the war in 1996 due to two uninhabited islets in the Aegean Sea, have been contesting the extent of their respective territorial waters for decades.

Almost 5,765 billion cubic meters of gas in the eastern Mediterranean

At stake is the availability of gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey has decided not to miss anything and has been researching for several months in a disputed area in the Levantine Basin. On August 10, the deployment of the Oruc Reis, a Turkish seismic research vessel, and its military escort south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo ​​as Athens was seen as too much provocation and triggered an escalation of tensions.

The Levantine Basin, which stretches from Crete and the island of Rhodes in the west to the Asian coast in the east, has 5,765 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas, according to an estimate by the US Geological Survey conducted in 2010. The exclusive economic zones (EEZ) as defined in international law, “Turkey is imprisoning inside its shores”, however, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calculates and deprives it of all access to possible deposits between Crete and Cyprus.

In November 2019, therefore, Turkey, which is fighting against the path of the exclusive economic zones, signed a maritime delimitation agreement with the official Libyan government to give weight to its demands. This economic zone between Turkey and Libya enables Ankara to expand its territorial waters and also opposes the EastMed gas pipeline, the result of an agreement between Cyprus, Greece and Israel.

Mediterranean: hydrocarbons enviable
Mediterranean: envy hydrocarbons © France 24

To counter the Turkish maneuver, Greece in turn signed a similar agreement with Egypt in early August. This empowers the two countries “to move forward by each making the most of the resources available in the EEZ, in particular oil and gas reserves,” the Egyptian foreign minister said.

Like Beijing in the South China Sea, in conflict with several countries including Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia for the exploitation and control of several islands, Turkey is pursuing “fait accompli” policies. In addition to the fact that the context is different in the Mediterranean with the neighboring countries in Europe that have the opportunity to respond, which is evident from the escalation of ongoing tensions.

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It does not matter, says Recep Tayyip Erdogan. For him, the effort is not only strategic, but also political. “The Turkish power has chosen for several years to develop a rhetoric of rising power, a country that can dictate its relations to its neighbors,” emphasizes Hugo Decis. “It is therefore about demonstrating Turkey’s ability to impose itself on its rivals.”

As a sign that she refused to abandon the resistance with Athens and its supporters, Ankara accused France, on Thursday 27 August, of escalating tensions by deploying warplanes in Cyprus to express its support for Athens. “The time for the great commanders is over. You have no chance of getting anything from us by doing this,” the Turkish defense minister said.

For its part, Germany, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, has sought mediation for several days and calls on Athens and Ankara to enter into dialogue.