NATO allies clash in the Mediterranean. Conflict could engulf the whole region

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Warships from both countries staged a show of force in the disputed Eastern Mediterranean region this week as a race for gas and oil reserves adds a new sticking point to old disputes.

Hostilities first erupted when Ankara announced it was extending the duration of a seismic exploration mission in the disputed waters that was originally scheduled to end on Monday in a maritime navigation note using the global NAVTEX system. The Oruc Reis study vessel is accompanied by warships and the Turkish Defense Ministry announced maritime exercises in the region on Tuesday.

Greece considers Turkish gas exploration illegal. Athens responded to Ankara issuing a NAVTEX countermessage and announcing naval exercises at the same location in southern Turkey and on the Greek island of Kastellorizo, which is just over a mile from the Turkish coast.

On Wednesday, Turkey confirmed that its warships were conducting “maritime training” with an American ship in the eastern Mediterranean.

They are not the only ones: France and Italy are joining Greece and Cyprus for joint naval exercises, French and Italian officials said, a move likely to raise temperatures in the region further.

“The Eastern Mediterranean has turned into a space of tension,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly tweeted on Wednesday. “Respect for international law must be the rule and not the exception. Together with our Cypriot, Greek and Italian partners, we will start military exercises today with maritime and air methods. ”

The Italian navy said in a statement calling for “enhanced cooperation and dialogue” that it would participate in an exercise off Cyprus, with naval units from France, Cyprus and Greece, from August 26 to 28. The Italian ship involved in the operation also participated in a four-hour exercise with the Turkish Navy on Wednesday.

As Greece and Turkey have engaged in gunboat diplomacy that has drawn more countries into the dispute, Germany has sought to defuse tensions that threaten to spill over regionally.

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“The windows of conversation between Greece and Turkey must now be opened more – not closed. Moreover, instead of further provocations, we finally need measures to relax and engage in direct talks, ”tweeted German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas ahead of visits to Athens and Ankara on Tuesday in an attempt to bring the two countries back to the negotiating table.

Following a meeting with Maas on Tuesday, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told a joint press conference: “Turkey continues to act illegally, escalate and provoke, despite exhortations from its neighbors , partners and allies.

“Greece will defend its sovereignty and sovereign rights in the name of the law. Greece will defend its national and European borders, the sovereignty and sovereign rights of Europe… But Greece has proven that it is and always will be ready for dialogue. . However, there can be no dialogue under threats. ”

Ankara also said it was open to dialogue, but this must be without preconditions and revolve around a fair distribution of resources.

“We are ready to negotiate … but no one should try to impose preconditions on Turkey, especially those determined by Greece,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at his joint press conference with Maas .

Greece must abandon its “maximalist ideas” and “let common sense prevail,” Cavusoglu said. “If we had a fair distribution instead of unilateral charges, we would all benefit,” he said.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, left, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met in Athens on August.  25, 2020.

German efforts to reach an agreement between Greece and Turkey failed earlier in July. Turkey suspended gas seismic surveys in the disputed area while negotiations were ongoing. But, according to the Turkish government, those talks collapsed after Greece signed a partial maritime demarcation agreement with Egypt.

Turkey has since carried out investigations in the disputed waters. “Our drill ships are continuing to operate as planned. Our argument is solid with regard to international law. Greece is linking up with certain countries to be right, because it lacks credibility, ”Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said on Tuesday.

Donmez appears to be referring to the support Greece, which is a member of the European Union, has received from France and the United Arab Emirates.

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The territorial dispute between Turkey, Greece and the divided island of Cyprus has been brewing regionally for years. But, “the region’s offshore natural gas resources have changed everything [in the eastern Mediterranean] over the past five years, “said Michael Tanchum, senior researcher at the Austrian Institute for European Studies and The North African Region is Converging,” he added.

The disputed area is also linked to the territorial claims of Cyprus. The island remains divided between the Greek-speaking EU member and the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus in the south, and the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey.

The Republic of Cyprus has granted international companies, such as Italy ENI and France Total, licenses to exploit gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Turkish government argued that this excluded Turkish Cypriots from the region’s oil resources.

According to a 2010 study by the US Geological Survey, there are about 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 122 trillion cubic feet of gas in the eastern Mediterranean section of the Levant Basin.

“France and its close partner, the United Arab Emirates, compete with Turkey for their influence in the Middle East and Africa. The Eastern Mediterranean is where France and the UAE can put pressure on Turkey in a region that Turkey considers vital to its national interests. got Turkey back on its heels and Ankara responded by doubling down with repeated sets of climbing, ”Tanchum said.

But the risks of deadlock are obvious. “There was already a collision between a Greek warship and a Turkish warship, in which the Turkish ship suffered damage,” Tanchum said, referring to an incident reported in August. “The risk of miscalculation or new accidents causing an open confrontation that no one wants is now dangerously high. ”

This story has been updated.

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