SPECIAL REPORT – Tension mounts in East-Med, rush call between Papandreou & Nentayahu

Tension is growing in the East Mediterranean and more specifically just off of Cyprus, due to the programmed natural gas and oil exploration preparations and scheduled drilling on October 1 that have caused  serious diplomatic and political rows between Turkey and Israel along with Cyprus, Greece but also Lebanon and Egypt. The reserves of gas and the general instability in the region, as well as the subject of the final preparations by the Palestinian Authority to proceed into declaring its independence, has alarmed policy makers across the world and the general mood is that a crisis with a possible military outcome may develop bringing about disastrous consequences for all concerned.

In such a framework, Prime Minister George Papandreou will apparently call his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu tonight following a televised conference call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nikola Sarkozy. The Greek debt crisis does not seem to only be the only topic on the agenda of talks, but also the escalating tension in the Eastern Mediterranean in light to Cyprus’ scheduled drilling for natural gas and oil in its EEZ.

According to onlaert.gr the developments over the last few hours obligated Papandreou to make a rush telephone call to his Israeli counterpart.
The reports said that it was rumored that the US is calling for an equal division to be made along with Egypt.  The statement apparently was brought to light following a question by Proto Thema by officials at the Greek Embassy in Athens making Cyprus officials steam with rage.

Up to now the Americans were stating that they were in full support of Cyprus on the issue of drilling since one of its own giants Noble Energy has secured the drilling rights there.

The worst part of all of this ofcourse is the sudden change by Washington on the issue, who is now more or less applauding Turkish Prime Minister T. Ergodan on his tour in the Middle East as the great leader of Islam in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

The whole issue directly affects Greece and Cyprus. The subject of Greece’s EEZ is due to open soon and an Ergodan who is being applauded by the US is not going to be a pleasant neighbour.

This last bit of information indeed raises much concern.

Athens officials are apparently monitoring the situation, especially after yesterday’s extraordinary meeting between Papandreou, Minister of Defence Beglitis and Foreign Minister Lambrinidis .

Meanwhile 14 Israeli F-16’s flew over the area where the drilling is scheduled to take place in an attempt to send a strong message to Ankara.

According to KATHIΜΕRΙΝI, the F-16’s flew near Egypt’s FIR, at the same time when Turkish Prime Minister was Erdogan was located. Following this they entered Cyprus’ FIR and turned and flew near the boarder of Turkey’s FIR.

While this was going on, Erdogan was escalating his verbal attacks against Israel saying that “let us all raise the Palestine flag at the United Nations and let it be a symbol in the Middle East. Our Palestine brothers have a right to their own nation”. 

He even accused Israel of obstructing peace in the Middle East. Addressing Arab foreign ministers in Cairo at the start of his Middle Eastern tour, Erdogan said that supporting a bid for recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN later on this month is “not an option but an obligation” for Arab states.

As strange as it may sound, Ergodan’s goal is not only Israel but Iran as well. Ankara does not want Iran to have the “control” over the Muslim population in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt do not like Iran anyway and Turkey is playing this to its benefit. Why? Because around 89% of Iranians belong to Shi’a branch of Islam, the official state religion and about 9% belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, whereas in Turkey around 90% percent of the population is registered as Muslim, mostly Sunni. They are two different dogmas of Islam.

Erdogan is therefore developing a strong Sunni Muslim force that he wants to eventually rule that will be more powerful against Iran and Israel.

According to expert Ioannis Michelatos from the analystnetwork.com the energy antagonism has awakened the old time antagonism between Greece and Turkey and especially as it relates to the Cyprus issue. The Greek Minister of Defence, Panos Beglitis in a recent official visit to Israel stated that both countries “Have the potential of becoming strategic partners and the pillars of stability in the East Med.”

He says that both countries have developed significantly their military cooperation since early 2008 through joint exercises and economic cooperation. The development of their cooperation runs in parallel with the diminish of the old time cooperation between Turkey and Israel which is waning especially since the freeze of military partnership between them and the mutual expulsions of military attaches as well as the frequent threats that have been exchanged between the two countries. Turkey’s reliance on Iran and its wholehearted sympathy for Gaza has infuriated Israelis, whilst the Turkish authorities blame Tel Aviv of its suspected ties with Kurdish guerrillas.

In Michelatos opinion even though the situation has started to draw international attention and to be considered as a potential flash-point, there are indications that a compromise might be found and the military backlash will be averted. 

The main reason for this, he notes, is the weak naval capabilities of Turkey in the area compared to the rest of the interested parties.

He does not see any conflict in the mid-term but underlines that further insight is needed about other potential destabilizing consequences due to Ankara’s ambitions of assuming further role in the region. in expense to that of Israel and Greece. Such consequences, says Michelatos,  may well be the mobilization of non-state actors of Islamic influence backing Turkey’s claims through non-conventional military means and most specifically propaganda, terrorism, lobbying, economic pressure and diplomatic manoeuvres aiming at pressuring either the countries in context or their partners in NATO and the EU to accept a greater role for the Islamic states in the East Med. 

The only thing that is certain, he concludes, is that the course of events for the coming months will be the intense behind the scenes competition concentrated in the East Med. between all interested parties and the likehood that a chain of events (Similar to those in the 1914 Europe), will lead into a great Middle Eastern war involving Syria, Iran and the world community as a consequence. 

Ofcourse Micheatos published his report on September 8, and since then, and judging by everything that has happened over the last few days, things can dramatically change at any given moment. This is indeed a tense situation and requires sensitive handling by all parties concerned. Let us only pray that sensibility and rational thinking take place for the good of all the peoples of this region, especially Greece.



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