Since the cooling of relations with Ankara in 2010, Israel has sought alternative allies in the Mediterranean region, courting Greece and Cyprus. An economic and security partnership between the three non-Muslim countries in the eastern Mediterranean benefits all. The most urgent strategic issue that unites them, however, is their need for energy security.
The recent discovery of substantial natural gas fields in the Israeli and Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) challenge Turkey’s claim as the central energy hub for Europe. Turkey is employing threatening rhetoric as well as its navy to deter and harass Cypriot and Israeli exploration efforts. Greece, Israel and Cyprus should increase their strategic cooperation in order to contain such Turkish hostility.
The Eastern Mediterranean is becoming the focus of a growing geopolitical tectonic shift. Today, Turkey, emboldened by the ouster of pro-Western leaders in the region, such as Egyptian President Mubarak, envisions itself as a revitalised master of the region once ruled by its Ottoman predecessors prior to the dissolution of the Empire.
This predominantly Sunni regional bloc includes Egypt, Jordan and the Maghreb countries. As the fall of the Alawite regime in Syria seems imminent, Syria and Lebanon are likely to join the Turkey-inspired bloc.
Turkey’s ruling AKP party has reoriented its foreign policy, moving away from Kemal Ataturk’s ideal and founding principle of Turkey as a part of Western civilization. Instead, it is forging strategic ties with its Arab neighbours and terrorist organisations like Hamas. The Mavi Marmara
incident in May 2010 served as a pretext for the official demotion in diplomatic relations with Israel. Rather than being a cause for the dramatic breakdown of the strategic understanding between the two regional powers, it was a mere symptom of existing ill will.
This Turkish ambition is a logical extension of the “Strategic Depth” doctrine promulgated by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who, since 2002, has served as Chief Foreign Policy Advisor to AKP leader and current Prime Minister Recep Tayiip Erdogan. In this vision, Turkey’s domination of the Mediterranean waters, including its sea routes and marine resources, plays an essential role.
Turkey’s enthusiastic flaunting of its Islamist credentials, especially in the context of the Arab Spring, has precipitated a freezing of the strategic partnership between Israel and Turkey. As a result, Israel has actively sought out new allies in the neighbourhood, courting Greece and Cyprus.
One of the critical issues in the emerging balance of power is the growing importance of energy security in global affairs. Since the end of the Cold War, Turkey has promoted itself as the indispensable energy hub for Europe and Israel.
A joint gas exploration between Israel and Cyprus has been met by hostility from Erdogan’s government. The natural gas fields are situated in the Mediterranean Sea shelf of the Republic of Cyprus and their ownership is strongly contested by Turkey.
For Israel, gas is increasingly becoming an important fuel source for generating electricity. It currently relies on gas to meet around 36 percent of its electricity needs (compared to zero reliance in 2004). Energy forecasts evaluate that this could rise to around 70 percent by 2020, making gas imports from Egypt an increasingly important source of energy for Israeli firms and households.
Egypt remains an important supplier of natural gas to Israel, although there have been significant interruptions in supply over the past six months.
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