At the beginning of June, Turkish President Erdogan's communications office claimed that Αl-Jufra air base, the largest one in Libya, and Sirte were the GNA's next targets, while already in May, Αl-Watiya air base was occupied. Simultaneously, the rival camp in the same area was also showing military readiness: Russia has reportedly sent a force of 14 MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters and Su-24 Fighter bombers to Al-Jufra and Egypt also stressed that it can take direct action, with President Sisi referring to these strategic points as "red line". Although just a few years ago this scenario would have seemed like "science fiction", nowadays with Turkey supporting the Tripoli government, determined to maintain its military presence in western Libya, and Egypt warning that it could intervene in favor of the other side, the prospect of a possible conflict between two countries is no longer unlikely. In spite of the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Sukri initiative, who undertook to relativize his president's stance explaining that: "Egypt promotes intra-Libyan reconciliation. There is no military solution to the Libya crisis", the Egyptian parliament has approved President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's order to send troops to Libya. This decision came a month after al-Sisi warned that Cairo had a legal right to intervene in the neighboring country adding that Egyptian intervention would be aimed at maintaining the national security of Egypt, Libya and the region.
The tensions between Egypt and Turkey represent in fact the consequences of a broader geostrategic constellation, where Libyan crisis could be perceived as just "the tip of the iceberg". For Cairo and the Arab monarchies that support it the threat posed by the Turkey-Qatar axis is not just about exercising regional influence. The fact that Turkey and Qatar demonstrate their ability to find common ground with Tehran from time to time only makes the aforementioned threat much greater. Moreover, obviously having in mind the multiple challenges that are weakening Egypt at the moment, Turkish officials have denounced the Egyptian army's ability to wage war. Not just the collapse of tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic and the threat posed by the advance of Saraj's forces into Libya create the landscape that may encourage the externalization of tensions through war adventures. Perhaps even greater challenge Cairo faces is a threat of 25% reduction in the flow of the Nile and the possibility of drying of 30% of its agricultural land due to the large dam built by Ethiopia. The artificial lake of the Renaissance Damon the Blue Nile have begun to fill the previous month due to the fact the UN-mediated negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia so far have been fruitless. Hence the real expectation of Egypt in the Libyan crisis was that the diplomatic efforts of Russia, which taking advantage of its good relations with all parties involved and determined to defend the new role it has taken on in North Africa, would succeed.
However, after the news from Moscow reporting the Russian Foreign Minister`s cancelation of avisit to Ankara, an extensive report suggested that ten months ago the US and Turkey were on the brink of military conflict in northern Syria, while today the picture is completely different. After tolerating the Turkish invasion of the US Kurdish allies by withdrawing US troops from northern Syria last October, the US president recently took a second major step towards Erdogan, giving the green light for Turkish military intervention in Libya. Apparently, in both cases he assigned Turkey the role to prevent the Russian penetration, task that would normally have to be performed by the US military forces! But despite Ankara's efforts to retain the positive outlook and portray Turkish President Erdogan in close co-operation with President Trump in Libya, Washington is keeping a low profile on Ankara's military action in the region. After the country's naval offensive with the French, in a sign that he does not want to take a clear stand in the confrontation between the two NATO members, the president's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, has voiced support for France over the Mediterranean conflict. And that is exactly how we came to the chaos within the Alliance that Turkey wants to exploit.
Exclusive economic zones in the Mediterranean: energy and defense implications
After many years of international disputes and reconciliation efforts, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) introduced the concept of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This came along with the necessary technological advancements enabling the deep-sea exploration and the extraction of natural resources from the seabed. Especially in the Mediterranean, these developments incentivized states to claim ownership over areas outside of their territorial waters, which is limited to 12 miles from their coasts. However, given the Mediterranean’s relatively small size, and the fact that if all Mediterranean coastal states declared their EEZs, those EEZs would span the sea in its entirety, most coastal states have avoided such a declaration. Greece, for example, has not declared its EEZ, because in doing so Turkey would be left with almost no EEZ of its own in the Eastern Mediterranean. Of course, this is where Turkey enters the game, actively trying to dispute or annex parts of it, and proclaiming that possible Greece's territorial zone extension would represent the casus belli. The new agreement between Turkey and Libya apparently complicates multiple plans for energy projects in the region. Turkey’s claimed EEZ carves out a corridor between Cyprus and Greece which is supposed to contain the planned gas pipeline from Israel. Turkey’s move defies the sovereignty and claims of Greece, Egypt and Cyprus and in fact annexes them. Obviously, Turkey chose to flex its military muscles in the Eastern Mediterranean with the Turkish navy’s presence increasing since 20081.
Τhe fact that potentially huge gas fields have been discovered in the waters around Cyprus, has enormously increased the stakes of the energy game in the Mediterranean. In addition, just to fuel up the already complicated situation, there is a quadripartite cooperation underway in the form of an alliance with the participation of France, Greece, Italy and Cyprus, which will cover the Eastern Mediterranean. This process, which is discussed on the basis that co-operation has a defensive character and aims at stability and peace, will offer the possibility of facilities in the Cypriot ports, exercises and is of course related to the safe exploitation of natural gas both in the EEZ of Cyprus and in the region of Crete, where in both cases the French Total is involved. France strongly supports such a coalition of states, because on the one hand it wants to play a leading role in the Eastern Mediterranean because of its hydrocarbon interests, on the other hand it has already clashed with Turkey, which wants to curb its role in the Eastern Mediterranean. However, Italy is very cautious about the issue of the Turkish-Libyan Exclusive Economic Zone. It apparently is concerned with Turkey’s excessive aggression, but Italy’s energy policy, which was never very supportive of the East Med project, favors the Green stream pipeline from the Libyan/Tunisian coasts. They also need Turkey in immigration, especially in the case of Libya, to work together to prevent new waves of migrants. In a move of tactics the Italian Senate approved a new budget to train the Libyan Coast Guard to prevent any influx of migrants. It is obvious that Rome is moving on a tightrope in terms of relations with Greece and Cyprus on the one hand, and Turkey on the other. And this is because in Libya its interests converge with those of Turkey, while in the Eastern Mediterranean with those of France, Cyprus and Greece.
At the same time Egypt's wish to strengthen cooperation with Greece in various fields was expressed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, welcoming Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias at the Cairo presidential palace. The President of Egypt and the Greek Foreign Minister discussed the strengthening of bilateral relations between the two countries jointly with the issue of Libya, stressing the strategic relations between the two countries. Representing a model of constructive cooperation between the Mediterranean countries, either bilaterally or within the tripartite level, Egypt, Greece and Cyprus, as well as the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, which includes Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Israel, Jordan and Palestine want to create a regional gas market, optimize resource development, reduce infrastructure costs, offer competitive prices and improve trade links. In this scenario, a demarcation with Egypt that gives full influence to the Kastelorizo complex would result in Turkey not having a sea border with Egypt. Another reason for the Greek side to show the "hidden paper" in order to persuade the Egyptians, could be the provocative and neo-Ottoman behavior of Ankara. Besides its declaration about drilling even off Libya, the presence of almost half of the Turkish fleet in the area that provocatively "breaks" the UN arms embargo ignoring the European operation Peace, the strengthening of Saraj with weapons, but also the intention of the Turks to set up military bases (there is talk of the Misrata naval base and Al Watiya air base) in the "neighborhood" of Egypt seems to have irritated the President Sisi` government and awakens memories of Ottoman rule in the Arab world.
Obviously, an intervention by Egypt is imminent in Libya. Since it would be difficult for Turkey to play in both Libya and Greece, there are the estimates Ankara would prefer its main goal, which is to cut off Greece's communication with Egypt and Cyprus.
And that could possibly be the answer why Turkey insists on policy of improving and promoting of Turkish-American relationship.
Nevertheless, not only because of the direct consequences of Ankara's revisionist policy, but also due to the obvious influence of the other decisive geopolitical developments on the emerging situation, there are some additional strategic parameters that should be evaluated and potentially taken account.
Turkey wants to create immediate accomplishments in the Eastern Mediterranean in order to create and take advantage of the time before the US elections, in a light of probability the presidency will change and the new government that will emerge in the US will have a close relationship with Congress, which for the first time will be anti-Turkish and will be influenced by the Greek-Israeli lobby. In essence, it sees a window of opportunity to implement its long-term plans, which are the expansion and conquest of the Greek EEZ. Meanwhile, the rise of Arab nationalism has already begun in Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt, and Ankara's main goal is to create a neo-Ottoman Turkey.
The U.S. is determined to dominate global natural gas market, where just in 2019, the U.S. held a commanding 23.1 percent share of global natural gas production, well ahead of Russia (17.0 percent) and even the entire Middle East (17.4 percent). Natural gas is the cleanest of the fossil fuels. It is also fastest-growing fossil fuel, with a global 2.6 percent average annual growth rate over the past decade. Looking ahead, natural gas is projected to be the only fossil fuel that will see substantial demand growth over the next two decades. The surge of natural gas production in the U.S. has also launched the U.S. into first place globally in natural gas liquids (NGL) production. Also the U.S. is the world’s fastest-growing LNG exporter.
The tone in the political discussion between the European Union and the United States concerning Nord Stream 2 has palpably changed in the past couple of months. Although little is known of its technicalities, Brussels and especially Berlin have raised the stakes for the U.S. to up the sanctioning ante. If the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Clarification Act (PEESCA) does make its way into the 2021 Defense Authorization Act, there will be little more the U.S. can do – sanctioning Gazprom outright or European majors like Shell or Total is still hard to imagine. Thus, if the current sanctions regime is the one to stay, Gazprom can still finish Nord Stream 2 by the first months of 2021.
The low oil prices and the economic slowdown from the COVID-19 pandemic have hit in a great way the finances of Chinese companies, including such in the oil industry, and defaults in its so-called offshore bond market have accelerated in recent months.
Turkey's state-owned gas network BOTAŞ has launched a tender for a gas pipeline to supply Nakhchivan, a landlocked enclave of the Republc of Azerbaijan. The new supply route would limit Iran's gas sales to Azerbaijan and comes as Ankara seeks to repair its relationship with the United States. The design work will be completed by the beginning of 2021, which means that the line could be built and operational as early as 2022. And while the threat of declining Iranian exports to Nakhchivan can only improve Ankara's position in talks with Tehran, the potential for leverage does not end there. Turkey has been trying in recent months to improve its strained relations with Washington, which in turn has long pushed Turkey and Azerbaijan to cut their economic ties with Iran. The prospect of Turkey and Azerbaijan cutting off or restricting gas imports from Iran would certainly please the Trump administration, even more so as the US has become one of Turkey's main gas suppliers since last year. As of February, the US accounted for 18% of Turkish gas imports, compared to just 15% from Iran.
Until recently, Russia's dominance in gas markets southwest of its borders seemed unquestionable. However, it seems that the landscape is changing lately, due to the dramatic changes in Turkey, which go almost unnoticed. Let us not forget that Turkey is the best customer of Moscow gas, after Germany. However, driven by low prices, the Turkish national company BOTAŞ is strengthening its markets with Algeria's Sonatrach, Qatargas and Nigeria's NLNG, all entities with which the company has long-term supply contracts. Turkey also buys LNG in the short term, especially from US companies. Despite diplomatic tensions between Ankara and Paris, BOTAŞ had no problem signing a three-year deal with Total last month. The rise of the LNG could potentially represent a bad omen for Russia. Turkey's shift to LNG is a function of both record low prices and investment in import and storage infrastructure in recent years. Consequently, especially at this stage when prices ae low, Turkey will be able to buy and store more gas - either via LNG or pipelines.
After decades of stagnation and multiple false dawns, the hydrogen economy is finally taking off, with some experts predicting that hydrogen could become a globally-traded energy source, just like oil and gas. A growing number of countries and industries are proactively investing in hydrogen technologies; none, however, can rival the EU's zeal. The European Union has set out its new hydrogen strategy as part of its goal to achieve carbon neutrality for all its industries by 2050. Although Brussels clearly favors "green" hydrogen produced by renewable energy, it has signaled that it will also encourage the development of "blue" hydrogen that is produced from natural gas paired with carbon capture and storage (CCS). The EU has said that hydrogen will play a key role in helping decarbonize manufacturing industries and the transport sector. The latest decision by European policymakers follows years of hard lobbying by more than 30 energy companies including Exxon Mobil, ENI, Shell, Total, Equinor, and other European natural gas companies, arguing that renewables such as wind and solar cannot grow fast enough to power the "clean hydrogen" sector to meet decarbonization goals. In addition, U.S. industrial chemicals giant Air Products announced that it would build a giant hydrogen project in Saudi Arabia using 4GW of renewable power, making it the world's largest green hydrogen project. Last month, also, Germany committed to invest €9B in hydrogen technology.
Τhe long-term strategic goal of the neo-caliphate effort to expand neo-Ottomanism in the Mediterranean, is not just the trying of the Turkey-Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood coalition to encircle Greece, but the whole EU focusing on its fragile southern abdomen: Italy and extension in Spain as well. While "the EU is self-dissolving like Byzantium", these strategic shortcomings of the European Union could be exploited and especially the bridgehead in Libya.
No European country, not even Italy, would feel comfortable with Turkey taking full control of Libya. The mere fact that this would give Ankara control of another key refugee gateway is a matter of reasonable concern. So far, however, only France has reacted strongly in the face of Turkey's "unacceptable behavior" in Libya, Cyprus and the Aegean. But the fact is that the only forces that "count" militarily in Libya are Russia and Turkey. Nevertheless, Russia is an unreliable relationship for Turkey and Russia, and if it chooses a long-term relationship, will prefer cooperation with Europe. Of course, Russia will continue to support Arab nationalism and the secular state in the Arab world with armaments and permanent military bases in the region. In addition, NATO is in crisis and Europe's security depends on France's nuclear power, while the ghost hovering over the US presence in Europe is a Franco-Russian approach. Consequently, new American policy will emerge with regard to the Eastern Mediterranean and Europe, which will de facto recognize the new facts of the 21st century. Although Germany remains a pro-Turkish force, in the future it would be probably obliged to rely on the French initiative for a new security architecture in Europe.
Geopolitical déjà vu
According to prominent analyst, Turkey's intervention in Libya is not far from Russia's intervention in Syria and Turkey's control of northern Syria is reminiscent of Russian control of various war zones, such as Abkhazia or South Ossetia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldova or Donbas in Ukraine. Such a fragmentation, "frozen" in time, is the most likely prospect for Libya and it is not Moscow's responsibility that many other countries are following in its footsteps on the geopolitical chessboard. The more the European Union and the United States allow for tolerance to be extended, the more countries take such initiatives. Although the European Union's rhetoric against China and Turkey has indeed hardened, this is a theoretical realization of the new geopolitics, as they have not yet been translated into tangible actions, such as sanctions.
Eventually, we can conclude, a notion (EEZ) that has been created to ensure stability, security and promote prosperity can be turned around and used as a weapon in the hands of any ill-intentioned user. In the Mediterranean, and especially in the Eastern part, the EEZ notion has given fuel to the fire of aggressive claims from some of the regional players, namely Turkey. In any case, such an escalation and show of force between Turkey and Egypt in the complex theater of operations in Libya is expected to continue in the coming weeks and months.
1 Χρήστος Μηνάγιας, Τουρκικές Ένοπλες Δυνάμεις και Εξοπλισμοί, Θεσσαλονίκη 2014.