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Greece-Turkey tensions on the rise as neighbours struggle over oil and gas reserves and disputed maritime territory.
Greece-Turkey tensions on the rise as neighbours struggle over oil and gas reserves and disputed maritime territory.

Tensions are mounting in the eastern Mediterranean between countries vying for the vast deposits of natural gas that have been discovered there.

The potential for military action is rising as neighbours forge new alliances and, in some cases, make old wounds worse in the regional scramble to secure energy rights for this century and beyond.

How much natural gas is at stake? Some estimates put the size of the reserves at 3.5 trillion cubic metres, which would put the region on a par with Venezuela and Nigeria. The United States could run for nearly a decade on that find alone. Additionally, there is a further 5.13 trillion cubic metres of gas estimated to be in the Nile Basin. It is no surprise then that Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian authorities all want as large a piece of the pie that they can secure for themselves.

And for the most part, they have. Egypt has started to exploit its reserves of gas and oil and is now a regional exporter. Lebanon, with the help of France and Russia, is also about to start commercial drilling. Europe has long been wanting to cut its reliance on Russian gas, and the energy-hungry trading bloc would be an ideal market for eastern Mediterranean natural gas.

So what is the sticking point? The main causes of friction are the overlapping and competing claims made by Greece and the Republic of Cyprus on the one hand and Turkey and Northern Cyprus on the other. Relations have got so bad between the fractious neighbours that both sides have threatened military action to defend what they say are their territorial rights.

There are up to 3.5 trillion cubic metres of natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean [Al Jazeera]
There are up to 3.5 trillion cubic metres of natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean [Al Jazeera]

Cyprus divided

At the epicentre of these claims lies the island of Cyprus.

The treaty banned Cyprus from participating in any political or economic union with any other country.

But in 1974, Greek Cypriot nationalists backed by Greece's military dictatorship staged a short-lived coup seeking to unite Cyprus with Greece. Turkey, invoking its treaty obligations, responded by invading the northern end of the island.

In a short, bloody war, Cyprus was effectively partitioned into two states divided by a United Nations-controlled buffer zone.

To this day, the internationally recognised government of the Republic of Cyprus, a European Union member, controls the southern, Greek Cypriot part of the island while Turkish Cypriots maintain a self-declared independent state in the north that is unrecognised by the international community but guaranteed by Turkey.

Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus and therefore rejects any claims it makes regarding offshore drilling. Turkey is also one of the few countries that are not signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international treaty governing the use of the oceans and their resources.

There are up to 3.5 trillion cubic metres of natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean [Al Jazeera]

Legal issues

Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus and therefore rejects any claims it makes regarding offshore drilling. Turkey is also one of the few countries that are not signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international treaty governing the use of the oceans and their resources.

According to the UNCLOS, a nation's territorial waters extend up to 12 nautical miles (22.2km) from the shore, and up to 200 nautical miles (370km) from the shore is its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). As the name suggests, anything found in or under the water out to this distance belongs exclusively to that country.

There are up to 3.5 trillion cubic metres of natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean [Al Jazeera]

Turkey, however, has a unique way of looking at EEZs, refusing to accept that islands can have such zones, and insisting that any island's control extends only 12 nautical miles from its shore.

Turkey cites what is called the continental shelf theory, and says that (islands excluded) a country's landmass, and therefore its EEZ, extends underwater to the very edge of the continental shelf. And everything on that continental shelf is part of its own territory until the bottom drops off.

The UN does not recognise this method of calculation, which has triggered a cascade of claims and counter-claims between the countries, as Turkey refuses to acknowledge those made between Cyprus and Greece. And because Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus, it does not recognise the bilateral deals Cyprus has with Lebanon and Israel.

Turkey does not agree with international standards for determining an EEZ [Al Jazeera]
Turkey does not agree with international standards for determining an EEZ [Al Jazeera]

Turkey and its neighbours

The key player here is Turkey.

With a rapidly growing population, it is eager to revive its stagnant economy as US-imposed sanctions and the sharp drop in the value of its currency, the Lira, have shrunk its budget. It imports more than 90 percent of its natural gas, and securing energy supplies is key to its growth.

Despite these challenges, Turkey is massively boosting its military-industrial-complex.

A large shipbuilding programme is under way, new air defence destroyers, advanced corvettes, frigates and a large mini-aircraft carrier, the amphibious assault ship Anadolu, have all been built for its growing navy. Combat drones, missiles and attack helicopters are also now being designed and made in Turkey.

Its neighbours have watched with increasing unease as Turkey, with its large combat-hardened armed forces, is now involved not just in northern Syria but also in the rapidly expanding war in Libya.

source: BBC

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