Gas Conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean

Oct 25, 2022 11:53 am

Mohammed Abed  Matar

The Eastern Mediterranean area is one of the most strategic areas in the world, which has become the focus of attention after the discovery of natural gas along the coasts of Eastern Mediterranean countries. Therefore, it became an area of conflicts and competitions that witnesses a series of proceedings, some of which are defensive and some others provocative.

With the increased number of discoveries and the competition among Mediterranean countries to sign discovery agreements with some foreign companies, it became advantageous for each side to take action to define their maritime boundary. Also, great powers such as Russia, America, and the European Union are searching for a role for themselves in the Eastern Mediterranean. This rapid competition between the Mediterranean countries and the international countries resulted in the creation of a wide and complex alliance network led by secret and public negotiations that aimed basically to set the strategies for controlling the resources and transmission and exporting lines.  

At the beginning of the last decade, there was a common belief that the fuel and gas wealth of the Eastern Mediterranean basin had been enough to create a geopolitical and geo-economic transmission in the area that would lead to a comprehensive peace and economic prosperity and that its impact would exceed the international and regional concerned states. However, as a result of the growing conflict over the maritime borders' demarcation, the sharing of the discovered wealth and the possibility to invest and export them outside, as well as the transmissions witnessed by the past decade, and the formation of a policy of regional and international axis to support some countries at the expense of others, this belief has been far from reality.

The discovery of the natural wealth led to serious disagreements, as demarcation of borders would lead to specifying the received amount of the discovered natural resources. Two main factors settle the conflict on this issue: the first is the international laws and agreements that define the maritime boundary between each country and the other. The second factor is the balance of power in the real sense of the word.

In regard to the criterion of international laws and agreements, there are countries that didn't sign on to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, such as Turkey, Syria, and the Israeli occupation entity. These countries depend on different criteria in defining their borders than the countries that signed the agreement. This would lead to disputes among the countries on the shared maritime boundary. In the same context, we saw how Turkey started the policy of fait accompli after it found itself in regional isolation in the Eastern Mediterranean and surrounded by a lot of critics. Thus, Turkey used this policy to create a new position that served its own benefits in the Mediterranean Sea.

As for the balance of power, the Israeli occupation was the one that benefited a lot from this criterion in defining its borders, depending on its military capabilities in facing both the Palestinians and the Lebanese in particular. Maybe the Palestinians were the first to discover their gas resources in the area off the coast of the Gaza Strip in 1999 (which means before the long years of the Israeli occupation's latest discovery). However, the occupation prevented the full exploitation of their wealth for political and economic reasons.

This huge Zionist discovery of gas led the occupation to export the natural gas to the neighboring countries. As a result, the gas became a source of contention in the occupation with neighboring countries over energy resources, particularly with Lebanon and Palestine. Or even get engaged in cooperative interactions with other countries such as Cyprus, Greece, and Egypt.

The current crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean proves that the economy is still the engine of the ferocious conflicts and wars in the world. To give some contexts, the "power war" in the 21st century is a war of "natural gas". Based on this ideology, the geostrategic position of the Mediterranean basin is a crucial issue for the countries of this basin. Also, Western countries rely on natural gas for both production and commerce, the majority of which rely on gas exports. Hence, this area is of vital international attention.

It is said that the history of the Eastern Mediterranean is the history of missed chances. Despite the opportunities presented by this natural wealth, the conflicts associated with defining the maritime boundary prevent digging and improving operations from taking place due to regional conflicts. In a related context, experts say that the international Law of the Sea doesn't provide clear solutions in the Mediterranean Sea, and that such conflicts usually end up with being marketed by force or agreement. So, the Eastern Mediterranean area will remain a conflict hub among the great powers in the upcoming years, which might lead them to enhance their existence in the area.