Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulidis was wise enough to point out that the much-vaunted search for hydrocarbons at the Cyprus EEZ by ExxonMobil (along with Qatar Petroleum) will now have to prove its mettle. That is, in some 3 month’s time we will all know whether natural gas finds at a sea depth of some 2000 m and with a further 2-3.000 m of drilling at the sea-bed where Cyprist and Egyptian areas present similarities, will be of an order of magnitude allowing for commercial exploitation – or giving substance to enthusiastic expectations that regional energy maps will change.
Such grounding of expectations is quite welcome, since neighbouring Turkey’s own over-eager presence at the fast-maturing eastern Mediterranean energy front already causes concern. To keep in mind: Turkey had started fresh seismic surveys in the Eastern Mediterranean with its research/survey vessel Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa in mid-October; then, it proceeded to far more intrusive drilling operations with the drillship Fatih.
Far more disturbing is the language used by Ankara in the – largely unrelated – matter of Greece preparing to extend its own territorial waters from 6 to 12 sea miles in less-contested regions (the Ionian Sea and South of Crete), starting an overall review of Turkish strategy concerning sea zones. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been on record stating that his country “will take all necessary measures” to protect its interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. The blurring of lines between East Med proper and the Aegean has been a persistent feature of Turkish foreign policy – with the threat of using force just under the surface. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was prompt in filling any possible gap by stating that disputes could be solved by diplomatic means, by resorting to international courts or by “a third solution” (a thinly-veiled reference to the use of force).
The presence of U.S. warships in the vicinity of ExxonMobil’s drillship Stena IceMax, plus the presence in Cyprus of US Assistant Secretary of State for energy matters Francis Fanon (further to his visiting Israel and Egypt) gives a measure of reassurance. But, looking at the wider issue, one wonders: will Eastern Mediterranean tensions boil over”?