Eastern Mediterranean a developing arena for Turkish assertiveness - analysis

Turkey has become an aggressive and disruptive force in the eastern Mediterranean as the country has drifted away from the West and strengthened ties with Russia, said analyst Jonathan Spyer in the Jerusalem Post on Thursday. 

Turkey is at odds with Greece and Cyprus over the potentially huge gas resources near the divided island. Ankara maintains that Turkish Cypriots should get a fair share of the wealth to be raised from gas drilling, and Turkey has its own maritime territorial claims that overlaps with Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

While Turkey has been building its influence and power in the Middle East and North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean is still a developing arena for Turkish assertiveness, said Spyer, the director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis and a research fellow at the Middle East Forum and at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security. 

“As Turkey moves further from the West and closer to alliance with Russia, it is emerging as an aggressive and disruptive force with regard to gas development in the eastern Mediterranean,” Spyer said.

Turkey has not been invited to join the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, a newly formed body established by Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, the Palestinian territories and Jordan.  Israel, Egypt and Lebanon have all signed delimitation agreements with Cyprus. 

Turkey currently has two drilling ships and one surveying vessel accompanied by the Turkish navy in waters near Cyprus. The Turkish navy last year prevented an exploration vessel leased by Italian energy firm Eni from drilling off the island. In May, Turkey’s navy held its biggest ever exercises in a show of military muscle-flexing in the Mediterranean with more than 130 warships.

“At present, Ankara’s efforts are limited to the Cypriot context. Turkey is not trying to interfere with the process further south. So, the future direction of events is likely to depend on the extent of Turkish ambitions,” Spyer said.