Why Is Turkey Increasing Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean?

WASHINGTON—On September 23, the drill ship SAIPEM 10000 — built in South Korea at the cost of $250 million and flying the flag of the Bahamas — arrived in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Cyprus to begin exploring for gas under a license awarded to an Italian-South Korean consortium, ENI-KOGAS. The Cyprus government hopes that additional discoveries over the next 18 months in its EEZ will be sufficient to make its plans to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on the island, to condition gas for export, commercially viable.

The Turkish authorities declared that the drill ship violated Turkey’s area of maritime jurisdiction and sent the Corvette Bafra to monitor operations. Another Turkish warship, the Gelibolu, engaged in planned maneuvers south of Cyprus ostensibly to ensure maritime safety in the eastern Mediterranean. The Cyprus foreign minister, Ioannis Kasoulides, said that exploration would continue despite Turkey’s “potential harassment.”

Why has Turkey escalated tensions at this moment, when the two Cypriot leaders have begun renewed, albeit wearisome, efforts to find a solution to the division of the island? The simplest explanation, offered by observers close to the Turkish foreign ministry, is that Turkey is following its consistent policy of opposing explorations offshore pending such a solution. Others suggest that Turkey is seeking to move the offshore energy issue into the settlement talks, a step opposed by the Greek Cypriot side. Eroğlu may also wish to look tough in the run-up to the April 2015 leadership election in the northern part of the island.

But the broader geopolitical context may also be relevant. Turkish President Derviş Eroğlu may be signaling that Turkey remains a power to be reckoned with at a time when he is facing a number of serious setbacks. On Tuesday, a curfew was declared in six Turkish provinces following demonstrations against the government for inaction over the advance by fighters from the Islamic State (ISIS) on Kobane, just over the border in Syria. Twenty-three people are reported to have been killed during these demonstrations. There has been a further outpouring of refugees into Turkey as a result of fighting over Kobane. Erdoğan claimed that “ISIS and the PKK (The Kurdistan Workers’ Party) are the same for Turkey,” implying that Turkey would lose from the struggle along its border, whatever its outcome. His position on Turkish involvement in the Iraq-Syria conflict remains ambiguous despite a pledge from the new NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that the alliance would protect Turkey from any spillover of the conflict with fighters from the Islamic State.

Full article: Why Is Turkey Increasing Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean? (France 24)

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