Tensions rise over Erdogan’s gas designs in Mediterranean, Libya war

Turkey’s parliament voted January 2 to send troops to Libya marked a turning point in Anakara’s plans.
Sunday 05/01/2020
Westward ambitions. Turkish lawmaker of the opposition Workers’ Party Erkan Bas shows a map of divided Libya before a parliamentary vote to send Turkish troops to Libya, January 2.              (AFP)
Westward ambitions. Turkish lawmaker of the opposition Workers’ Party Erkan Bas shows a map of divided Libya before a parliamentary vote to send Turkish troops to Libya, January 2. (AFP)

ISTANBUL - Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean are expected to rise sharply as Turkey’s aggressive strategy in a scramble for natural gas resources triggers a united response by neighbouring countries determined to stop Ankara. Turkish parliament’s approval to deploy troops in Libya only added to such tensions.

Turkey’s actions sparked warnings by the United States and Russia, as well as by Egypt.

“Escalation is probable in the Eastern Med,” Halil Karaveli, author of “Why Turkey is Authoritarian,” said by e-mail. “Turkey may decide to formally annex northern Cyprus. Building a naval base there is also being considered.”

Turkey’s parliament voted January 2 to send troops to Libya after Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) requested support. The GNA is fending off an offensive by Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which is attempting to take over Tripoli.

The same day, leaders of Greece, Israel and Cyprus signed a deal for an undersea pipeline that would carry gas from new offshore deposits in the south-eastern Mediterranean to continental Europe, sidelining Turkey.

The 1,900km EastMed pipeline is intended to provide an alternative gas source for energy-hungry Europe, which is largely dependent on supplies from Russia and the Caucasus region.

Karaveli said Turkey’s plan to get involved in the Libyan conflict militarily was designed to create pressure on its neighbours in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“It is precisely because all other regional powers and their great power backers have aligned against Turkey in their joint effort to exclude Turkey from the Eastern Mediterranean — its oil and gas resources — that Ankara is returning militarily to Libya” a century after the Ottoman Empire lost the region to Italy, Karaveli said.

“Turkey needs to keep the officially recognised Libyan government, with which it has reached the maritime border agreement that effectively

severs the Greek Cypriot-Greece maritime connection, in power to have leverage in the oil and gas game in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the root of the problems between Turkey and its neighbours was the unsolved problem of Cyprus, which has been divided between a Turkish and a Greek part since 1974. “Everything is because of the problem of Cyprus,” the official said.

The division of the island sparked Turkish claims that Greece and the Greek republic of Cyprus ignore the interests of Turkish Cypriots in exploiting gas resources nearby. Ankara is also irked that regional countries prefer to build the costly underwater pipeline to ship gas to Europe instead of using a pipeline network on the Turkish mainland.

Ankara has raised the stakes with recent moves to explore waters controlled by Cyprus and Greece. The two EU members are particularly disturbed Turkey sent warship-escorted drill ships into waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights.

Turkey’s plan to send troops and fighters to Libya drives up tensions more. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said about 300 pro-Turkish Syrian fighters have been dispatched to Libya.

In its deployment of the fighters, Turkey seems to be borrowing the scripts of both international private mercenary contractors and those of global jihadist groups.

US President Donald Trump warned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a telephone call “that foreign interference is complicating the situation in Libya,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

Russia is also concerned over Turkey’s plan to send troops to Libya. Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, said military intervention is certainly not the best option to resolve the crisis in Libya. Egypt, which, like Russia, backs Haftar in Libya, condemned the vote in Turkey’s parliament.

In a Tv address, January 3, Haftar called on Libyans to bear arms, “men and women, soldiers and civilians, to defend our land and our honour” against Turkish “colonisers”.

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