Turkey claims it is “breaking a blockade” by sending naval ships under the guise of a research mission to the Mediterranean. For a country that is a member of NATO – and which has sent drones to Libya, is busy bombing northern Iraq and occupies part of northern Syria – Turkey’s narrative that it is under blockade is a novel approach to fan its latest maneuvers in the Mediterranean.
Never in history has Turkey been less under blockade than it is today. Yet it has manufactured a crisis with Greece to lay claim to areas of the Mediterranean, asserting it wants to survey and drill for energy resources when it hasn’t even developed such resources closer to shore.
The latest crisis in the Mediterranean appears entirely driven by Ankara’s desire to create a crisis where none existed before. Since November 2019, Ankara has signed a deal with the embattled Libyan government, which is in the midst of a civil war. It has used the war as an excuse to wring concessions from Libya and a deal that Turkey says gives it wide-ranging rights to the Mediterranean.
Those demands now run into opposing demands by Greece and Turkey over the same waters, and they also conflict with Cyprian energy exploration blocs that have been delineated for years.
Ankara has been sending helicopters to harass the Greek islands that are near its coast and sent drones off the island of Rhodes, all in a display of strength to keep Greece on a state of alert. That alert has now gone on for weeks, and Greece and Turkey appeared headed for a clash.
Turkey’s general posturing doesn’t indicate that it actually wants a clash with a European country and a fellow NATO member. Instead, it wants a crisis so that it can create headlines at home about how its navy has “broken” a nonexistent blockade.
Turkey’s Anadolu Agency, a state-run news agency, has maps and headlines about how it is laying claim to areas between Cyprus and Crete. It sent its Oruc Reis, a large research vessel, to go back and forth in the waters far off the coast of Egypt, Greece and Cyprus, presenting this as “breaking up the Greece-Greek Cypriot blockade.”
Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in the 1970s and created an unrecognized state there, which it now uses to justify parts of its claims.
“Turkey has accused Greece of trying to block it in the Aegean Sea,” the report said. “Turkey has long contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus also has rights to the resources.”
THERE IS little reason for Turkey to be surveying the continental shelf so far from its borders, when it hasn’t even surveyed waters closer to home. This makes the whole story appear to be muscling and brinkmanship designed to get European countries to intervene and come up with some sort of agreement. Turkey has done the same in Syria and Libya, intervening and making large claims, only to back down and come to some kind of ceasefire with Russia – or simply to stop moving forward.
It’s unclear where the clash or redline may occur in the Mediterranean, similar to redlines Turkey encountered in Syria’s Idlib or Sirte in Libya. It appears more likely that after a few weeks of crisis, Turkey may go back to do something else, having successfully caused a crisis and distraction for Europe, Greece, the US and others, only to move on to some other file that it has opened in Iraq, Libya, Syria or Russia.
The issue for Turkey is that it has alienated a whole series of countries by these constant crises standoffs. For instance, Iraq decided not to host its defense minister this week after Turkey killed Iraqi officers on the border. The Trump administration, which was seeking to grow relations with Ankara, has become tired of the constant phone calls from the president of Turkey with various demands on US President Donald Trump.
Russia is tired of having its joint patrols with Turkey attacked by Turkish-backed extremists, whom Ankara harbors in Idlib and other areas. The Syrian regime wants revenge for the death of its soldiers in February and March. Cyprus, Greece, the UAE and France have all come closer together the more Turkey pressures them in the Mediterranean and elsewhere.
Ankara’s strategy has thus gained it some swaths of territory in Syria and northern Iraq and Libya, new bases in Somalia and Qatar and an ability to show off its drones in airstrikes. But it may have alienated many countries. From Ankara’s perspective, that is OK because it opposed the Egyptian regime anyway, was hostile to Cyprus and was on the side of Qatar in a standoff with the UAE. It has merely accelerated processes that existed.
That is Ankara’s gamble in the Mediterranean as well: Force a crisis and see if it can get some portion of its demands without paying a price.
Source: The Jerusalem Post