U.S. must address Turkey’s rising aggression - former top officials

The United States must address Turkey’s growing aggression in the eastern Mediterranean, former top U.S. officials said in an article published by Newsweek on Wednesday.

“Washington's own lack of focus on the region helped invite Ankara's aggressiveness, which in turn is increasing tensions at the heart of the transatlantic alliance, undermining America's ability to promote peaceful energy development and worsening the civil war in Libya,” Eric Edelman, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, and Charles Wald, former deputy commander of U.S. European Command, said.

Edelman and Wald said a new report from the Eastern Mediterranean Policy Project at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), which they co-chair, illustrates the troubling effects of Turkey's actions during the COVID-19 pandemic and how the situation could deteriorate further with U.S. inaction.

Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was increasingly assertive in the years prior to the pandemic, leading to disputes with almost every other country in the eastern Mediterranean - in particular, over Libya and due to competing claims over hydrocarbon exploration rights.

Erdoğan has doubled down on his aggressions in Libya and in the energy rich energy-rich waters around Cyprus and Greece during the pandemic.

Ankara may be calculating that the United States and Europe do not have the wherewithal to push back against Turkish moves in the eastern Mediterranean. 

“Looking ahead, the pandemic likely will lead to heightened instability and tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, driven primarily by further provocations from Turkey,” the former officials said.

They said that the high stakes and uncertainty surrounding region means the United States needs to seriously convey its commitment to stability by appointing a special envoy to the eastern Mediterranean “to promote the collaborative exploitation of regional energy resources and create a clear counterweight to Turkey's efforts to disrupt peaceful energy development”.