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‘A row between Turkey and Greece raising tension in the eastern Mediterranean’

  • Category
    India & world
  • Published
    26th Aug, 2020

NATO allies Turkey and Greece have locked horns over who gets to explore hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Context

NATO allies Turkey and Greece have locked horns over who gets to explore hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean. This latest spat over gas reserves and maritime rights has prompted fears that tensions could escalate further.

About

Eastern Mediterranean waters 

  • Eastern Mediterranean denotes the region in the east of the Mediterranean Sea (the Levantine Sea) in Western Asia.
  • The countries and territories of this region include Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Libya.
  • The East Mediterranean includes:
    • the Adriatic Sea, northwest of the main body of the eastern Mediterranean Sea, separates the Italian peninsula from the Balkan peninsula and extends from the Strait of Otranto to the south (where it connects to the Ionian Sea) to the Gulf of Venice to the north
    • the Ionian Sea lies to the south of Italy and Greece
    • the Aegean Sea, located between the Greek and the Anatolian peninsulas, with the island of Crete defining its southern border
    • the Levantine Sea, separated from the Ionian Sea by a submarine ridge between the western end of Crete and Cyrenaica (Libya); it extends to the south of the Anatolia peninsula.
      • It is bordered by Turkey in the north, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the Gaza Strip in the east, Egypt and Libya in the south, and the Aegean Sea in the northwest.
      • The western border to the open Mediterranean (the also called Libyan Sea) is defined as a line from the cape Ra's al-Hilal in Libya to the island of Gavdos, south of Crete.

The Mediterranean neighbours

  • For centuries, Turkey and Greece have shared a chequered history.
  • Greece won independence from modern Turkey’s precursor, the Ottoman Empire, in 1830.
  • In 1923, the two countries exchanged their Muslim and Christian populations – a migration whose scale has only been surpassed in history by the Partition of India.
  • The two nations continue to oppose each other on the decades-old Cyprus conflict, and on two occasions have almost gone to war over exploration rights in the Aegean Sea.
  • Both countries are, however, part of the 30-member NATO alliance, and Turkey is officially a candidate for full membership of the European Union, of which Greece is a constituent.

How did the Eastern Mediterranean become the eye of a geopolitical storm?

  • For decades, Eastern Mediterranean maritime boundary disputes were a local affair, confined to sovereignty claims and counterclaims among Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey.
  • But over the past five years, the region’s offshore natural gas resources have turned the Eastern Mediterranean into a key strategic arena through which larger geopolitical fault-lines involving the EU and the MENA region converge.
  • Italy and France have played integral roles in driving that change, which has placed the EU and Turkey’s already complicated relationship onto more adversarial terms.
  • The game changer was the August 2015 discovery of the massive Zohr natural gas field in Egyptian maritime territory. 

What about international laws?

  • The territorial claims of Greece and Cyprus are backed by international law under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • But Turkey is not a signatory to the convention so even if Turkey’s latest actions were found illegal by an international maritime tribunal, Turkey likely would ignore rulings against it.
  • Cyprus and Greece have not brought a case against Turkey before the tribunal overseeing the Law of the Sea.
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