Since the beginning of history, the Mediterranean has a unique place in world order,with its locationin the middle of three continents, with its assets such as sea routes, channels, passages and straits combining different political regimes, religions and nations. Her wallet possesses cultural heritages, economic resources and a history full of victories, defeats, crisis, wars and tragedies. Furthermore, Mediterranean Chess Board has always been a conflict arena between the superpowers; each has tried to establish its military presence and hegemony.
Today it is not much different than thepast. When we take a snapshot of current developments, we wouldseethe unsolved disputes and economic tensions that stems from unlimited desires of humanbeing, which is basedon having more instead of sharing.
This paper presents itself as the first of a series of quarterly assessments on the developments in the Mediterranean Sea that our team monitors continuously and prepares weekly crisis/regional focus reports. In this sense,I would like to invite you to hastento get on board for a horizon tour on this remarkable sea of this lovely blue marble.
The first quarter of the year was a busy one which witnessed unfortunate deaths and dramatic stories of migrants, the disputes mainly stemming from energy sources and economic factors fueled up by politics among rivals and counterparts followed by military and naval moves.
Comparing to other sea areas of interest, Mediterranean have more symptoms of a fewerwith increasing tension in the Eastern Mediterranean. The politic and military confrontations of local and global actors are flamed up with the struggles over thehydrocarbon resources which is mostly the primary ignition tool of many quarrels in the globe.
The other serious problem here is the immigration flows to EU where the numbers of migrants dropped mainlyin the Central Mediterranean while slightly increased in the Aegean Sea and Western Mediterranean in comparison to last year’s statistics.
In this paper, I will comment on the recent developments of this theatre and present the ways to stabilise the region and promote peace.
2. Assessments on the Recent Developments
We can group the recent events in the Mediterranean Sea under three distinctive topics. First one is the Turkish-Greek tension which mainly originates from the disputes on Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Eastern Mediterranean or classic problems in the Aegean Sea between two countries. Second one is the global friction in Syria which creates a Russian-US Confrontation blossomed by Trump’s tweets following large-scale sarin use in the Syrian conflict and last night’s airstrikes which paves the way for the establishment of the New Cold War Era. And finally, the third topic worth to mention is the Immigration Flows to Europe.
a. Turkish-Greek Tension in the Aegean and East Mediterranean Seas
The Blocking of the drillship of Italian energy firm by Turkish Navy (Hadjicostis/Bilginsoy, 2018), the US oil giant’s research activities (Ahval, 2018)in the disputed EEZ of Cyprus, Naval Exercises and Port Visits of US, UK, Greece and Cyprus (Greek Cypriot Administration(GCA)) in the region, the collision of Turkish and Greek Coast Guard ships in the vicinity of disputed Imia/Kardak Islets (Reuters, 2018), dogfights of Jets and impeding of Turkish Drone by Greek Air Force in the Aegean Sea have increased the tension between two NATO allies.The arrest of two Greek Soldiers (DW, Deutsche Welle, 2018)by Turkish authorities hasbrought the tensionto a climax.
The EEZ crisis and Aegean Sea Islet Problems are long-term issues among counterparts. While Turkey was dealing heavily with Afrin Ops. in Syria, the opportunity to heat up the long-standing mattersagain was something not to be missed for some. Reemerging old quarrel was a matter of time when Turkish concentration and power hadbeen distributed in several areas.
During the first quarter, several declarations from politicians (MOD/Greece, 2018)and academics on the share of EEZ areas or the potential energy sources beneath fed the ongoing crisis. But both parties at operational level behaved very carefully not to step on each other’s foot.
On the Greek Side, anti-Turkish comments and news in the media through politicians have always been a usefultool to get support and divert the public eyes away from the essential other domestic or economic problems. Energy Forum in Greece (Geropoulos, 2018)become a platform for the thesis of Greece and GCA to be promoted. Several messages weregiven accusing Turkish Side misbehaving on the arena. These messages had also includedcallsfor EU, NATO or US tointervene inthe case. In this messy environment, Greek leaders gear up their efforts to provide globalsupport in their thesis against Turkey with several diplomatic engagements with leaders and officials of US, RF, EU, Germany, NATO, UNand such (PM/Greece, 2018).
On the Turkish side, it was also anotherchance for politicians to gain domestic support among voters using classic anti-Western claims, currently with the helpof military and naval operations and exaggerated media coverage ofthem. The declarations of President (CyprusMail, 2018)and Prime Minister (Keep Talking Greece, 2018) over disputed Cyprus EEZ issue and US involvement (Exxon Mobile and the US Sixth Fleet) have shown their stance in the matter were more effective messages to domestic voters besides an announcement for global partners, in any case, Turkey has immense ambition to be on the decision table. As a contra attack, Turkey accordingly announced its intention of sending drill ship into contested waters off Cyprus to explore for offshore oil and gas (MAREX, 2018).
Local actors’ declarations were still in an aggressive manner supporting their own seats back at home while decreasing their credibility and accountability in the international venue especially regarding cooperation and collaboration for a peaceful world. Besides the local actors such as Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus (GCA and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)) global actors are also keeping an eye on the developments.
For the global perspectives,the level of tension among two allies is an excellentmean to keep them in shape as a militaryposture against real adversaries, butit is not an option to let the crisis rise over barriers.
As we have foreseen that EU, US, and NATO countries will not prefer an uncontrolled intervention between two NATO allies, concerning that Greece is also an EU member while Turkey is a wannabe with a valuable andlovely Immigration Agreement on the table. Moreover, past economic ties and agreements prevent EU from upsetting the table. For US and NATO, both countries have significant geo-strategic positions, especially Turkey being a bufferzone between burning Middle East and Russia-Iran threats.
EU leaders’ (Carmicheal, 2018) versus Turkish official’s declarations (MFA/Turkey, 2018) pumped the pressure up, but both sides still behave in a controlled way while Turkey has a card of immigration agreement to use as a joker, hampering EU nations to enact strong sanctions or military means to act as a show of deterrence against Turkey.
Recently started military campaign of US, UK, France coalition against Syrian Regime strengthens Turkey’s hand again in terms ofillegal migration flow from Syria. This aspect of the operations has a potential to be an automatic threat to EU.
In this sense, European Council’s strong condemnation of Turkey which performs continued illegal actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea and underlining its full solidarity with Cyprus and Greece has no noticeable effect on Turkish side. Turkey dismissed this diplomatic protest (MAF/Turkey, 2018) showing its currentposture and negligence towards these verbal threats.
Presence of US Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) in the eastern Mediterranean, followed by exercises with Israeli Navy and port visits to Haifa (U.S.6thFleet, U.S. 6th Fleet, 2018) and later to Limassol was a regularshow of US Navy in the neighbourhood but this time also had particular means at the background. They showed their deterrence capability and resolution mainly against bold Russian declarations and secondarily as supportto EXXON ships which are at the same period berthing in the port of Limassol (U.S.6thFleet, 2018).
All of these military activities in such a short period give a signal about the cohesion of coastal states (except Turkey in the short run), EU and USA upon the Eastern Mediterranean (EMED) dispute.
Nonetheless, I assume US policy will be in balance between two NATO allies and would not prefer to lose any of them at the end of the day. Turkey’s unloyalty to NATO Alliance and consequent intentional harm to US and Western values and interest in the region may push the limits to change this mindset.
Turkey may also increase her presence vianaval activity in the area but will still avoid confronting EU, or US Naval assets at sea unless supported by a challenging third power as RF. Such motivation has been pumped up by a specific Pro-Russian Media in Turkey but marrying to his new mistress would not be realistic and smart choice since divorcing from your spouse after 60 years would not be practical, economicaland logical.
A win-win peaceful solution for local actors should be economically basedon mutual understanding, respect and common sense, although it looks like that they are always looking for a solution excluding the neighbour.
The struggle of having asharein the natural sources among global actors by worldwide known oil and gas companies is a crucial cause that should be optimised behind the scenes. A comprehensive solution to the overall disputes is not expectedin the short-run.
Besides, EU is also keen on a beneficial solution of the problem and seeks for options (Teffer, 2018) to invest in the transportation of Cyprus Gas into Europe markets as soon as possible to find alternative energy for Russian Gas and meet energy needs.
Currently, discussions on the possible scenarios of Transfer of East Med Gas are shaped into three options (Daele, 2018). The first option is via a pipeline to Turkey, but according to Widdershoven, that plan can be writtenoff as no one wants to go to sea with Turkey. Recent developments between Israel-Turkey, Cyprus-Turkey and Egypt-Turkey render this option unacceptable for regional countries. As a supplier of project, it seems not applicable for EU either. In the second option, the pipeline runs from Cyprus to Greece and Italy. This plan is financially unfeasible. The liquefaction plants have become virtually unaffordable. A third option is that the gas is transportedto Egypt via a pipeline, where it is converted into liquid and then easily transportable. Since the infrastructure is already there, this author asserts the last option as the best executable one.
Consequently, a healing for the region may be achievedthrough cooperative economic behaviour, as a prelude to providing political stability and peace. The participation of both superpowers and all countries in the region is essential, even it seems utopia in the short run, to change the Mediterranean region into a symbol of peace and stability.
b. Footsteps of New Cold War Era: Global tension due to the proceedings in Syria and Russian-U.S. Confrontation
In the first quarter of the year, US warships continued their presence and executed several exercises with countries as Greece, Cyprus (GCA) and Israel In the Eastern Mediterranean in addition to their regular show ups in the Black Sea. Dynamic Manta Exercise in the Central Mediterranean (MC/NATO, MC NATO, 2018), as an annual NATO submarine one, had been a show of deterrence capabilities and a theatre of collaborative solidarity for the organisation members at Sea.
Russians responded with routine but more noticeable moves by sending destroyers into the Mediterranean (Lockie, 2018) along with the regular presence in and around Syria ports and Eastern Mediterranean. Russian Deployment of S-400 Missiles (Pawlyk, 2018) to Syria was another remarkable development on the Chess Board.
Additionally, it was reported that Russia submarine activity (Vandiver, 2018) was at its highest levels since the 1980s as Moscow continues to invest heavily in its maritime capabilities, as the top military commander in Europe said.
As part of recently emerging competition of power, let’snot hesitate to call as New Cold Era Competition, declarations of Military Officials and activitiesof Warships could provide us some indications.
Although Russia threatened the USagainst a new strike to Syria (Durden, 2018), we reminded that in addition to the destroyers, the US and also the UK submarines canfire cruise missiles within or far outside the vicinity of Syrian Coastal Defense. US, UK and France coalition ‘one-time’ airstrikes last night showed that there is a serious ambition and unity to handle chemical weapon issue in Syria. Such a step was avoided in 2013 with RF’s firm stance supporting Syria.
The Chemical Attack in Syria, the ongoing declarations, show of force and powerful weapons and platforms of the global actors in the area may trigger a fire starting locally but affect globally. Trump’s remarkson the US military status and policy about Syria has been a U-Turn with a Harsh statement on Assad. Following UN Security Council meetings, there was a silence before the storm. And as coincidence in a Muslims’ Holy Night, coalition attacked Syria with the intention of neutralising chemical capacity as a support to Muslim people against Muslim leader.
Among the mass of news, there was one other that should be focused and examined deeply. It was about the cargo ship URAL (Voytenko, 2018) with Russian military cargo caught and kept in Tunisia on the last days of February. The destination and final owners and users of such cargo should be determined, and the legality should be investigated to prevent especially the insurgents and terrorist groups mostly fed by such shipments. Don’t forget that there is not a weapon factory known in the MiddleEast or Africa providing support to terror groups like ISIS and such.
While nationalism and dominant one-man governing are getting popular over the globe, it is one of the expectations that the proxy wars and related terrorist groups will lose base and attractiveness, conventional and nuclear powers are and will be on the rise.
Can this airstrike to Syria as a responseto Syrian Chemical One be a Fuse of WW3? Thisis a tough question to forecast, but every other step each day highlights that we are already at the edge of or inside the borders of a new era of which we will see soon as if that will be colder or warmer than the previous one. Even though this attack was declared to be a one-time attack, Russia responded calling it as an act of aggression. And Trump gave a signal if seen necessary there will be follow-on strikes. In this sense, area is very sensitive.
c. Immigration Flows to Europe
With the new year, the EU border and coast guard agency, Frontex, has launched a new operation (Nielsen, 2018) in the Central Mediterranean that is called Themis. It aims to crackdown on alleged terrorist suspects and criminals besides performing search and rescue as a mean of humanitarian aspect primarily needed at the scene. This operation with its redoubled security-centric mandate departs from previous Frontex naval operations exposing a broader EU re-focus on people rescued at sea as potential threats.
Meanwhile, NATO Operation Sea Guardian (MC/NATO, 2018) and EU Operation Sophia have conducted coordinated activities, especially in the central Mediterranean. Even naval operations are the last means to deal with the immigration issue from source to final destination and efficiency is disputable (Drake, 2018), the ongoing efforts have been respectful.
And, there is good news over the declining daily immigration numbers through the Mediterranean, but still, the area is a place holding heart-breaking drama each day. Unfortunate tragedy of immigrants to Europe has been continuing as the number of deaths at sea reaches to 517 in the first quarter of the year which is less than the same period of the previous year as 804.
IOM, the UN Migration Agency, has reported that 15,289 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea through the first 95 days of 2018. Among these, with about 44 percent arriving in Italy and the remainder divided between Greece (33%) Spain (23%) and Cyprus (less than 1%) (IOM, 2018).
Comparing the same period last year, the number of arrivals to Europe through central Mediterranean route has considerably decreased whilethere is some increase in the Western and Eastern routes.This may be related to that operation Sophia has been focused in the Central Mediterranean mainly, forcing the immigrants tosearchfor alternative waysto reach Europe.
Figure-1 Total arrivals By Sea and Deaths in the Mediterranean 2017-2018 (IOM, 2018)
This information is also a clear indication of the fact that the human smugglers are working elastically to mobilise towards where there is more gap to penetrate through since EU Operation Sophia and the efforts collaborated with Libyan coast guards seems to make it a challenging venue for immigration flows. The rise in the numberof Turkish Citizens migrating from Turkey (DW, Deutsche Welle, 2018)is another remarkable point to focus on where, on the other hand, this country hosting around 3 million Syrians.
The first quarter has showed that this year would be a tough one which has a full potential to bring the world into the days of the old cold war. The developments in the Mediterranean supports our assessment with new tensions every other day.
For the long-standing issues between Turkey-Greece, I don’t assume a short-term solution especially with the current cadre of the politicians and the resembling mindset they have. The crisis and similar interactions seem to continue all year long, considering the upcoming presidential elections in Turkey and non-promising economic situations of these two allies. In this sense, ‘verbal wars’ of counterparts are expected to be maintained. Global actors also would not prefer an uncontrollable contact between two countries, not until their primary interests are profoundly affected.
Syria Crisis possess a much higher potential that is already on the operation table, and although the doctors have not agreed upon a mutual solution, some of them showed intent to execute an open surgery there.
Last nights strike was a trial to heal the issue with a one-time treatment, but the overall status of the patient requires more attention than this. We will see. Local anaesthesia may not be enough to ease the pain and cancer may spread into a global arena. The risk of non-controlled loss of blood in the area stands still.
Eventually, spring clouds may bring missile rains over Syria unless UN can settle down the issue or leading powers come up to a peaceful solution.
Is there going to be further assaults or a global war will begin? Who will win? I am not sure about the winners, but, in every other option, unfortunately, losers will be innocent people especially women and children. Now they suffer for a long while; tomorrow they will suffer again although the intent is to support them. Greed beats humanity although we have enough sources for all of us in this lovely blue ship of the universe.
And one more non-avoidable result will be the increase in the number of potential immigrants to West or Safe Havens; well, not to forget that it is really tough to estimate where will be safe in a global conflict.
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