Next Middle East war may be over Mediterranean gas – Israeli scholar

Natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean have become the main source of tensions in the Middle East that could turn into an energy war, Israeli scholar Eyal Zisser wrote for the Jewish News Syndicate.

The recently discovered gas reserves have replaced water as the main source of regional tensions, Zisser said, adding that though countries could improve economic ties over the hydrocarbon bonanza, “emotion overtakes reason” in the Mediterranean. 

“It is Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, that now poses the main threat to regional stability, and the steps it is taking could drag the entire region into a conflict,” Zisser said. 

Turkey stepped up its efforts to claim a share of the natural gas resources in the Mediterranean last year by sending two drillship protected by the Turkish navy to look for gas near Cyprus.

In addition to territorial claims that overlap with Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, Ankara signed a deal with the U.N.-recognised Libyan government in Tripoli that sees the two countries as maritime neighbours, ignoring the continental shelves of some Greek islands.

The move “allows Ankara to prevent Israel, Cyprus and Greece from laying a pipeline that would enable them to export gas to Europe,” Zisser said. 

The Turkish government in fact wants the pipeline to pass through Turkey’s territory, but it shut down talks with Israel for political reasons, Zisser said. Ankara faces regional isolation with Cyprus, Greece and Egypt aligned against Turkey’s Mediterranean policy. 

“A combination of ego, politics and the prospect of billions of dollars is now cranking up the tension in our neighbourhood, and it could turn into a military conflict, with clear ramifications for Israel,” Zisser said.