For a very long time our Holy Land suffered from covetousness from its surrounding political rivals due to its geopolitically important via maris.
In our present world, Israel treads carefully as it seeks world acceptance, being squeezed in the Eastern Mediterranean between two strategic locations, the Suez Canal, important in world trade, and the Bosporus, a key naval strait in NATO’s rivalry with Russia.
The local strongman should be the European Union. And today, it cannot gather the strength to show some form of solidarity with one of its members, a founder of European civilization, and its strategic southeastern cornerstone, namely Greece.
After Europe bled in two world wars, and having established the European Community in the hope that an economical union would stave off future conflicts, the cracks continue to seriously challenge this union.
In a clear-cut sovereignty challenge with Turkey, Greece cannot find full solidarity with its fellow members. For Israel, any hope it had that its gas fields would be secure, dwindles away as diplomatic realpolitik may change a windfall into a coming conflict.
Indeed, as neither international sovereign claims, nor solidarity, are sufficient to stand by Greece, let it be a lesson for us in Israel. Turkey benefits from owning the Bosporus, but now, understandably, feels strangulated by its lack of any clear ownership in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Awakened by China’s “nine-dash line” claims in the South China Sea, and the recent discoveries of gas by Israel, which it shares with Cyprus, Turkey decided it must have a share of the pie. But it suffices to glance at a map to realize that as Turkey benefits with the Bosporus, it is Greece that will profit largely from the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, while boxing in Turkey’s aspirations for sea exploration riches.
With the Arab Republic of Egypt sharing an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with Cyprus, and Greece, it leaves little maneuverable space for Turkey. In recent years, despite its membership in NATO, its leadership took unilateral steps in Syria, and more important to our present discourse, Libya.
The next move in the chess board was taken by Egypt with an EEZ agreement with Greece, thus, Turkey, for now, lost much hope to obtaining those riches. Being a NATO member, gives it standing, which it abuses; being at the crossroads of Asian migration into Europe, it openly blackmails Europe; and being a force to reckon with, its determination seems to outweigh that of Europe’s leadership, shifting the “sick man of Europe,” a title the late Ottoman Empire held, back into Europe’s hands.
Despite a clear sovereign map, which would be supported by an arbitration tribunal, basing itself on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a neighborhood bully freely challenges a EU member, while the European bloc turns a blind eye.
This does not bode well for our EastMed pipeline; this does not bode well for world peace. And Turkey knows this. A peaceful neighborhood is about to become a volatile keg.
I ask a question, asked countless times after World War II: What will it take for dissenting individual interests of nations, as with Germany today, with its large Turkish population, and its dream of becoming an energy hub, to show some form of unity in what seems, but a distant concept today, the European Union.
A conflict between Turkey and Greece most likely will enable Turkish gains in the Aegean Sea. And we may ask to whom would such a conflict benefit? Are we back to the old Ottoman encroachment into the Balkans, but this time its seaway?
Israel is possibly lucky for this one time to find it “straightforward” to take sides, since the Ottoman bully, once calling itself a friend, had once passed by its neighborhood, some years ago, wreaking havoc, and since, remains but a distant annoyance.
The writer is a professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.