5 September 2020   Leave a comment

I posted on 19 August about Turkey’s increasing assertiveness in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Yaakov Amidror has written on this topic for The National Interest, and his analysis reinforces my views that Turkish President Erdogan is intent on increasing Turkish influence in regional affairs that in many respects mimics the policies of the Ottoman Empire. He writes:

“What motivates Turkey? While the country is recovering relatively well from the coronavirus pandemic, it continues suffering from an ongoing economic crisis. Erdogan appears to feel that his aggressive policies, which are reminiscent of Ottoman behavior, have broad domestic support. He seems to sense the weakness of other powers in the region, especially the EU, and he wants to expand his country’s influence at the expense of others in the Mediterranean—which, without U.S. backing, are left largely defenseless.”

Significantly, Turkish policies seem to be diametrically opposed to Russian interests in Syria, Libya, and in the Eastern Mediterranean. But the Turkish actions have also antagonized two members of NATO, France and Greece, in ways that threaten the alliance itself. Moreover, Erdogan is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which threatens Egypt which regards the group as a terrorist group. In other words, Turkish policies are disruptive to the interests of many in the region.

The US has strong connections to all these states, but the US has been strangely silent on the possible confrontations. The Brookings Institute has published an article which has taken note of this absence:

“The United States considers this area one of great strategic interest, especially for containing Chinese and Russian interference through regional alignments and allies. The policy objective is to keep the main maritime trade routes — first of all the Suez Canal — safe. In this sense, the goal is to minimize the opportunities for confrontation between the countries of the region, especially with two NATO members involved, Turkey and Greece, and potentially now France.

“The void left by the United States in the political dynamics of the Mediterranean has been filled, to a growing extent, by China and Russia. The two powers are able to maneuver well in the region, taking advantage of the increasing systemic disorder and growing tensions between states. America should act to prevent this.”

The US could easily take the stance on the Eastern Mediterranean that it has taken in the South China Sea: a strict adherence to the international law of the sea. Turkey has been conducting seismic tests for oil in waters that Greece considers within its legal jurisdiction. Other European states have come to Greece’s defense, as noted by CNN:

“‘The Eastern Mediterranean has transformed into a space of tensions,’ French Defense Minister Florence Parly tweeted Wednesday. “The respect of international law should be the rule and not the exception. With our Cypriot, Greek and Italian partners we will start military exercises from today with maritime and air methods.

“The Italian navy said in a statement calling for ‘stronger cooperation and dialogue’ that it would be taking part in an exercise off Cyprus, with the naval units of France, Cyprus and Greece, between August 26-28. The Italian ship involved in that also took part in a four-hour exercise with the Turkish navy on Wednesday.”

The US Geologic Survey has estimated that there are about “1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 122 trillion cubic feet of gas in the Levant Basin section of the Eastern Mediterranean” so there is a lot of interest by many states in those resources. In earlier times, the US would have taken a strong role in trying to mediate these tensions, but there does not appear to be any interest by the US in such a role in this dispute. Without a strong mediating presence, it seems unlikely that these issues can be resolved without conflict.

Posted September 5, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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