U.S. must step up efforts to counterbalance Turkey's moves in East Med - analysts

The United States has long overlooked the eastern Mediterranean after the end of the Cold War, but Turkey's policy in the region forces Washington to take solid steps, two analysts wrote for the National Interest on Saturday.

Tensions have soared between the eastern Mediterranean countries since Turkey stepped up efforts to exploit the hydrocarbon reserves in the region. Moreover, in November, Ankara signed a maritime borders deal with Libya’s Government of National Accord, in a bid to prevent Greece’s larger islands from claiming a continental shelf and an exclusive economic zone.

Meanwhile, France has deployed warships in support of Greece after Turkey sent a seismic vessel to the contested waters. Paris is also seeking additional sanctions against Turkey for violating Greek and Cypriot maritime zones.

"Thus far, the United States has largely allowed the situation to deteriorate by standing aside," Thomas Trask, who serves on the Eastern Mediterranean Policy Project at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), and Jonathan Ruhe, Director of Foreign Policy at JINSA, said.

"Washington must reassert its former stabilising role in the region to address these proliferating crises and protect U.S. interests," they said.

A significant step would be to delegate a U.S. Special Envoy for the Eastern Mediterranean, who could cooperate with the member states of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, consisting of Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, to "create a clear counterweight to Turkey's growing obstruction of regional energy development," the analysts said.

Meanwhile, Washington must take the law in its own hands in Libya, and U.S. officials should focus on limiting Ankara's influence over the Tripoli government, they said.

"These limitations should include leveraging options to redeploy U.S. military assets out of Turkey, and perhaps consider basing them in Greece."

Turkey is backing the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in its fight against rebel General Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army forces, which are supported by Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, among others.

Turkey’s increased military involvement in Libya since December 2019 - through the deployment of military and intelligence personnel, the delivery of drones, and dispatching of hundreds of mercenaries from Syria - has recently tipped the balance of the conflict in favour of the GNA’s forces.

"As a complement to stronger diplomacy, the United States also must bolster its military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Deeper defence ties with Athens would help counter both Turkey and Russia," the analysts said.

The decision to lift the 33-year U.S. embargo on non-lethal defence articles to Cyprus was a productive step toward eliminating Moscow's presence on the strategically important island, they said.

"Amid nearly unprecedented tensions within the transatlantic alliance, these initial measures would go a long way toward promoting U.S. interests in stability and peaceful energy development."