Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Turkey needs a Cyprus crisis
Even though this is still media speculation and official results of the drilling won’t be released until December, what is clear is that these finds, along with those in Israel’s EEZ, pose a threat to Turkey’s stated hegemonic ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey is limited in what it can do to prevent Israel and Cyprus spoiling its neo-Ottoman dreams. International law is not on Turkey’s side, Israel is a powerful country with even more powerful allies, and Turkey’s overtures to Egypt and Lebanon to overturn EEZ agreements with Cyprus have, so far, proved unsuccessful and, particularly in the case of Egypt, are unlikely to yield results in the future.
Regarding Cyprus, Turkey has said it will not stop by force the natural gas drilling taking place; rather it will set up, in fields it has identified as belonging to its puppet state in occupied northern Cyprus, the so-called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’, rival drilling operations. To this end, Turkey has sent out the research vessel Piri Reis for hydrocarbon exploration in and around Cyprus’ EEZ and has also intensified its naval presence around Cyprus and in the Eastern Mediterranean generally.
Turkey’s attempt to set up a rival drilling operation on behalf of the ‘TRNC’ is somewhat laughable. Turkey has neither the expertise or resources to explore for and exploit Cypriot natural gas. Turkey would need foreign firms to help it carry out any drilling; but it is unlikely that any significant player would want to be part of the illegal plundering of a sovereign government’s natural resources. Similar issues of cost and legality would dog Turkey throughout any export process.
The assumption has to be, therefore, that Turkey is not serious about ‘rival drilling’. Rather, its plan is to create an atmosphere of crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean, which would alarm the EU and US, scare off investors and put a stop to the drilling being conducted by the Cyprus government.
The problem for Turkey is that its attempts so far to engender a crisis have not had the desired effect, with the US government and the EU refusing to urge Nicosia to halt its activities. But having started down this road, Turkey will not turn back and is left with only one option, which is to intensify its efforts to cultivate a Cyprus crisis and escalate the potential for military confrontation.