Monday, 12 September 2011

Why Now?

Turkey is learning the first lesson of all aspiring premier league countries – ignore international organizations when you don't like their decisions.

The United States simply ignored the United Nations when it failed to win the UN’s support for invading Iraq in 2004. Germany and France simply ignored the Maastricht Treaty when their budget deficits exceeded the rules of the treaty. And now Turkey is ignoring a United Nations’ report that didn’t agree with Turkey’s claims on the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The United Nations had a commissioned a report on the incident that occurred in June 2010 when a Turkish ship commissioned by a group that some consider a terrorist organization tried to run the blockade and deliver its cargo directly to Gaza. The Israelis intercepted the ship in international waters, boarded it, and wound up killing nine Turks in the ensuing fight. Turkey protested vigorously while Israel said it had every right to maintain the blockade to stop potential weapons smuggling to Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Turkey reacted to the report with all the self-righteous indignation it could muster. They sounded as if Turkey were the only country with a right to self-interest. The prime minister said the report had no basis and that Turkey would reduce its diplomatic ties with Israel to the bare minimum. Other Turkish ministers huffed and puffed and made thinly veiled warnings about increased Turkish naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Just what this already explosive area needs.

The fact that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan simply does not like Israel or its equally combative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is already well known. But why the explosion now? After all, the incident in question happened over a year ago. Why is Turkey all of a sudden making all sorts of veiled threats about events in the Eastern Mediterranean? While the death of nine Turkish citizens is indeed lamentable, it is far less than wholesale slaughter of innocents in neighbouring Syria. Syria gets a slap on the wrist while Israel – and Cyprus – get dark warnings of military intervention.

Oil and Gas

One possible explanation could be Turkey’s annoyance at being left out of the promising oil and gas exploration in the waters between Cyprus, Israel and Lebanon. Cyprus intends to explore the famous Block 12 in its southern territorial waters close to where the Israelis have made a major discovery. Turkey has objected vehemently to the Cypriot exploration. Turkish officials say that internationally-recognized and European Union member Cyprus has no right unilaterally to explore for hydrocarbons in its own territorial waters. According to them this exploration would somehow have negative implications for the isolated, economically struggling self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that occupies about one-third of the island and is recognized only by Turkey.

Try as it might Turkey has been unable to get a single other country to join it in recognizing the Turkish part of Cyprus. This must be frustrating, especially as a group like the Sovereign Military Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta without a square meter of land has diplomatic relations with more than 100 countries.

But beyond the frustration and embarrassment, Turkey is desperate for oil and gas. The country has only negligible hydrocarbon resources and spends upwards of $90 billion/year importing almost every drop of oil and gas its rapidly growing economy needs. It most certainly wants to be included in the promising exploration in the Eastern Med. But this is not going to be easy.

The areas currently being explored are nowhere near Turkish territorial waters, and it is not at all clear what the legal basis would be to object just because the perceived rights of an unrecognized entity like the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus would be ignored. This could change if a few other countries would join Turkey in recognizing the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but for the moment this possibility seems remote.

The smoothest option would be for the troubled island to find a way to re-unite and bring the Turkish north into the international and European Union fold. Unfortunately, reunification seems more remote than ever. The Greeks in the south see no point in bringing in the poorer northern part of the island, and Turkey has shred all pretence of an independent northern Cyprus by imposing harsh conditions for any potential reunification - - regardless of what the native Turkish Cypriots might want.

So far the Republic of Cyprus has ignored Turkish objections to the exploration, and supported by the European Union, Russia, the United States as well as several other countries it is unlikely to stop looking for major oil and gas reserves.
Turkey is becoming much more adventuresome in its foreign policy, but will it risk serious confrontation by using military force to intervene in the oil and gas exploration by another sovereign country? Under previous governments I would definitely say no. But Prime Minister Erdoğan is taking the country in a new, assertive and aggressive direction. It remains to be seen just how far he will push Turkish claims in this region.


A Seasonal Cook in Turkey said...

Hi David! Interesting post. Will show it to J and M. love to M xx

David Edgerly said...


Thanks for your help with the comments. Always good to hear from you.