The eastern Mediterranean Sea has become a very busy place, and pressure abounds among coastal neighbors there. Governments are declaring exclusive economic zones (EEZs), but they overlap. States are granting duplicate licenses for natural gas exploration and drilling. Mammoth energy corporations and coastal states are signing hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of hydrocarbon agreements. Frequent maritime safety broadcasts are informing of endless military exercises.
Israel and Lebanon are on edge over hydrocarbon reserves. Lebanon awarded bids last month to France’s Total SA, Italy’s Eni SpA and Russia’s Novatek to drill for oil and gas in Blocks 4 and 9 within Lebanon’s EEZ. Israel doesn’t recognize these bids and claims that all of Block 9 is within its EEZ.
Then there is the crisis between Turkey and Greek Cyprus, which is becoming progressively militarized. A tense military standoff took place Feb. 9 between the Turkish navy and Eni’s Saipem 12000 drilling ship, which is licensed by the Greek Cypriot administration to explore hydrocarbon reserves south of the island. In my Al-Monitor Feb. 15 opinion piece “Tempers flare over gas exploration in Mediterranean,” I wrote, “Ankara thinks the tensions in the Aegean [Sea] and eastern Mediterranean Sea aren’t coincidental. Ankara feels the natural gas alliance of Greece, Greek Cypriots, Israel and Egypt — being aware of the Turkish military’s capacity shortcomings since the July 2016 coup attempt, its military involvement in Syria and its increasing isolation — is scheming for diplomatic, economic and military faits accomplis.” Ankara still believes that.