Can Turkey Use Water to Exert Power Across the Middle East?

ISTANBUL — Turkey hopes to take a first step this year towards long-held ambitions to be a supplier of fresh water across the Middle East.

The first phase of a project to pump fresh water from the Anamur River in southern Turkey to the drought-stricken northern part of Cyprus is slated to be completed this year, according to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Turkish government in Ankara.

The 1.2 billion lira (Dh2bn) pipeline, which runs under the Mediterranean, is to bring 75 million cubic metres of water a year to Northern Cyprus, an isolated self-declared republic recognised only by Ankara.

The Turkish ministry for forests and water said in a statement that work will be finished by July 20, the 40th anniversary of Turkey’s 1974 military intervention in Cyprus. Several experts in Turkey said the Cyprus water project could be a first step for Ankara to boost its role as a regional power by providing water to Middle East countries.

“It is technically feasible,” Ibrahim Gurer, a hydrologist at Gazi University in Ankara, said. “And it’s possible not only for Cyprus, but also for other countries like Israel or even Libya. It is not a distant dream.”

In recent years, Turkey’s relative water wealth created problems with several neighbours. Syria and Iraq, which rely on water from the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers that originate in Turkey, complained that dam projects in Turkey diminish the amount of water that reaches their territories.

Last year, Karim Elewi, an Iraqi member of parliament, accused Turkey of holding back water from the two rivers. But Ankara says water demands by its two southern neighbours are unrealistic.

“The demands of Iraq and Syria [for water from the two rivers] tacitly assume that Turkey releases all the flow of the river without utilising any of it,” the Turkish foreign ministry said on its website.

It is not the first time that Turkey’s fresh water resources have become the subject of ambitious regional plans. In 1986, the Turkish prime minister, Turgut Ozal, proposed to build water pipelines from two rivers in southern Turkey through Syria and Lebanon. The plan, dubbed “Water for Peace” by Ankara, never got traction amid the conflict between Arab countries and Israel.

Oytun Orhan, an analyst at the Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (Orsam), a think tank in Ankara, said Turkey’s political weight could increase in the long run because of the water issue.

“It could boost Turkey’s geostrategic significance,” he said.

Full article: Can Turkey Use Water to Exert Power Across the Middle East? (AINA)

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