Another Regional Resource War?
For decades the relationship between Turkey, Greece and the divided island of Cyprus has been volatile. Now with the discovery of gas fields and the development of pipelines to supply the lucrative markets of Europe, the eastern Mediterranean is growing increasingly more unstable. The gas field off the southern coast of Cyprus is called Aphrodite, named after the Greek goddess of love, but there is no love lost between the rivals for possession of that energy.
Cyprus was divided in a Turkish invasion in 1974 in response to a Greek-inspired coup. Turkey is the only nation to recognise a breakaway state on the island, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Cyprus’s internationally recognised government subsequently discovered offshore gas in 2011 and has granted licences to multinational companies for oil and gas research, commissioning international energy companies, including the French multinational Total and Italy’s ENI to explore allocated blocs off the island for underwater resources.
Turkey claims that some of the drilling operations are either on the Turkish continental shelf or in areas where the TRNC has rights over any finds and has called for a fair and equal distribution of the energy resources. Starting last summer Turkey deployed two exploration and drilling ships accompanied by military escorts. Turkey has called for a fair and equal distribution of the energy resources discovered, insisting that they should not be excluded and stress that their drilling activities are legal and within territorial waters.
Also featuring in the strategic rivalry is the 2,200-kilometre pipeline, called the EastMed, which is planned to transport gas from Israel through Cyprus and Greece into Italy, where it would be distributed to the rest of Europe. Turkey is already part of the TurkStream pipeline which feeds Europe with natural gas coming from Russia. This has provided both Turkey and Russia not only an economic benefit but geo-political leverage as well. If the EastMed pipeline becomes a reality then Turkey and Russia will stand to lose something many in the EU are eager to see – a loosening of that dependency.
The possibility of a military conflict cannot be ignored. The Greek defence minister, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, recently warned that its armed forces were ‘examining all scenarios, even that of military engagement’ and rejected Turkish demands that Greece demilitarise sixteen Aegean islands. He accused Turkey of displaying unusually provocative behaviour such as the rise in the number of violations of Greek airspace by Turkish fighter jets.
France’s President Macron pledged he would strengthen the alliance with Greece. France has dispatched frigates to the eastern Mediterranean as the stand-off with Turkey intensifies and the feud over exploration rights has deepened. Although supposedly to participate in the war against ISIS, the French aircraft carrier will make port at Limassol in Cyprus. The French Ambassador to Cyprus Isabelle Dumont said the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier’s presence was intended ‘to stabilise the region’. France is also planning to enlarge its naval footprint in the eastern Mediterranean and last year signed an agreement with Cyprus to use the Evangelos Florakis naval base in Mari, on the island’s south coast.
Turkey retaliated in early December, 2019, by signing a maritime border deal with Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), making a military commitment to send military support in the form of Syrian mercenaries to help in the fight against forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar who has the aid of Sudanese mercenaries plus the diplomatic support of several foreign powers such as France, Italy, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The December deal, which would expand Turkish influence in the region, has been deeply criticised by Libya’s neighbours in the Mediterranean. A maritime border agreement between Turkey and Libya’s U.N-backed government is ‘unacceptable’, violates international law and flouts the sovereign rights of other countries, Luigi Di Maio, the foreign minister of Italy, declared. Egypt called it illegal, denouncing the Turkey-Libya deal as infringing on waters where they claim economic rights.
Fuat Oktay, Turkey’s Vice-President, answered that ‘Turkey will not permit any activity that is against its own interests in the region,’ adding that ‘any plan that disregards Turkey has absolutely no chance of success.’
So once again the world is faced with the possible threat of war. The Socialist Party maintains that modern war is an inevitable consequence of capitalist competition for the domination of markets, trade routes, favourable treaties, and possession of valuable resources. Our opposition has a simple basis: wars are fought over issues of interest to the capitalist class while it is workers, either in uniform or in civilian clothes, who are the cannon-fodder. The global working class has no interests at stake worth shedding a single drop of blood. Why should we die defending what is not ours and which we will never benefit from? The only war that need concern us is the class war between the parasites who possess and the workers who produce. Mere moralising against the war is not enough. What we advocate is a war on war to be waged on the battlefield of ideas, for the hearts and minds of the world’s people. And once we unite there will be no force that will stop us.