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The Billion Dollar Question: Turkey's Solidifying Energy Drilling Activities in the Eastern Med

Turkey's forays over the last few months into the Eastern Mediterranean and  the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) have become a game changer overnight, with the permanent stationing of its newly-acquired three drilling vessels.

The area is simply too complex in its make up, as well as its substantive geopolitical and geo-economic reverberations in the Mediterranean. In other words, it is an eternal Greek-Turkish bras de fer. 

The agreement between Libya (the internationally-recognized Libyan government that controls only 10 percent of the war-torn country's territory to be exact) and Turkey, which attempts to rewrite the EEZs of the Mediterranean, gives Turkey an important role in transnational gas exploration and pipeline construction. This alludes to a "Perfect Storm" in international geopolitics that spells for magnified impact.

Amid protests on the part of the countries directly affected by Turkey's chess motions and jubilant instigators, none has answered the most important question - or even dared to touch it. It is indeed a “billion dollar question”,as per the American lingo. 

Israel's own energy findings are only a few miles away from Turkey's drilling exploits and the RoC's own EEZ is the tensest energy neighborhood in the world. Israel's greatest interest is not in locating further gas/oil reserves but starting to ship its own large findings from Tamar and Leviathan to global markets, thus monetizing its resources urgently to sustain its suffering finances. Greek Cypriots, Greece, Italy, and Israel are in a rush to construct the East Med pipeline, a 1,300 kilometers complex network that will transport natural gas for 900 km under sea occasionally at very large depths, and 400 km on terrain in Greece and Italy to thirsty markets at a cost of nine billion Euros in 15 years. It will be a first ever technical feat, and yield economic viability. Even on the signing day of the deal two months ago, the Italian Foreign Minister essentially, called this pipeline project a ..."pipe dream!"

What will happen should Turkey's own natural gas exploits in the Eastern Mediterranean indeed produce successful in locating reserves that can be more realistically and prudently transferred to Turkey's nearby Ceyhan energy hub? This is certainly a topic for discussion, considering the energy transferred throughout Europe and elsewhere will be at a fraction of the cost of the East Med project.

Add to that a cunning gift to interested players like Israel by Turkey's Erdoğan, to quickly hook Israel's gas findings to the Ceyhan hub so as to have Israel collect burgeoning gas revenues in only a few months instead of 180 months (i.e., 15 years). For sure, one can see the cement-like alliance rapidly diluting.

Alliances are certain not to remain unscathed and iron-like, as Israel's need to monetize its findings much sooner would dictate a substantive shift in foreign policies and alliances. 

Erdoğan did this actually once before with Erbil when he promised the Kurdish President Masoud Barzani a pipeline to European markets via Ceyhan through which the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) managed to collect huge revenues in order to sustain its plans. Turkey did this for free (recouping their investment from the ensuing revenues), but reaped important geopolitical gains.

A similar strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean by Turkey, which is strategically much more important, would cause Turkey’s aspirations to shatter rather quickly along with the foreign policies of the region’s players. 

Playing the devil's advocate, Israel could technically produce a solution of quick drilling on its own, and transport its own reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean to markets via a floating dock at source in Leviathan and Tamar. However, the result would again be the same. In other words, the aspired tightly-knit alliance against Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean would come apart once the most important player, Israel, beats its own path. 

Perhaps this is why none dares to answer the massive foreign policy question. None of the parties can accept such a resilient geopolitical game changer but logic, an ancient Greek invention, seems to be absent in a spectacular design such as the East Med pipeline.


Georgios Stavri
Georgios Stavri

Georgios Stavri is the Director of the Euro-Mediterranean Institute of Geopolitics in Nicosia, Cyprus.

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Foreword Israel, formally known as "The State of Israel," was established on 14 May 1948, and has since played a pivotal role in international affairs, particularly in the politics of the Middle East and North Africa. Israel's relations with its Arab neighbors have been tense for decades, and a lasting peace has never appeared more likely. Yet, we already live in a time of perpetual change,...