A new chapter of tensions has emerged in recent days in the eastern Mediterranean basin, after Egypt and Greece signed an agreement to demarcate the exclusive economic zone of the two countries, at a time when Turkey announced its non-recognition of this agreement and insisted on continuing exploration for natural gas and oil in disputed waters in the region.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger attributed to him saying: It is oil, when he wanted to analyze any international political event in the last decades of the twentieth century, and since the beginning of the twenty-first century, analysts of the newer have been saying: It is gas.
The region of the Eastern Mediterranean Basin includes Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkish and Greek Cyprus, in addition to Turkey and Greece, as they are among the main driving forces of events in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin.
The escalation of international and regional interest in the Eastern Mediterranean basin was associated with the discovery of the "Zohr" field in the exclusive economic zone of Egypt in 2014, whose resources are estimated at 30 trillion cubic feet, and was preceded by the discovery of three other major fields in Israel - the most important of which are Tamara and Levithian - with resources of 35 trillion cubic feet. Cyprus has gas resources of about 10 trillion cubic feet.
It is worth noting that the US Geological Survey estimated that the Eastern Mediterranean Basin has oil resources estimated at 1.7 billion barrels and 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Countries such as Egypt and Israel quickly began to exploit their natural gas resources in order to meet the needs of the local market or export surplus production to foreign markets, but Lebanon, Cyprus and Syria still face difficulties in developing their gas resources due to the internal political and economic conditions.
Turkey is the main driver of the struggle over gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean basin, and Ankara believes that the Turkish Cypriots have sovereign rights in the exclusive economic zone of the island of Cyprus, and it has the responsibility to preserve them. In fact, Ankara wants to control the island’s gas resources and strengthen its position as a regional energy center.
This is what has faced fierce European and American objection.
Earlier in the developments in the conflict, it seemed that it was not expected that the Egyptian-Turkish dispute would cause Turkey to object to exploration operations in the Egyptian economic zones, and it seems that Turkey does not want a clash with Egypt, and Egypt is far from Turkey.
Turkey also tried to win over Egypt after signing the Memorandum of Understanding with Libya, claiming to discover that Egypt has a larger area of exclusive economic zones.
The tension also seemed to be concentrated mainly between Turkey and Greece and Cyprus due to the proximity of the two countries' coasts to them, in addition to the conflict over Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, which creates a crisis when the borders are drawn, in addition to geopolitical and historical conflicts between Turkey and each of Cyprus and Greece.
Ankara has moved to counter European and American support for gas cooperation projects in the region through rapprochement with the Iranian-Russian axis, and sending ships to drill and explore energy resources in Turkey's exclusive economic zone.
In addition, Ankara concluded an agreement to demarcate the maritime borders with the Libyan Government of National Accord at the end of last December, which would block the way for the implementation of the "Mideast" pipeline, as the new demarcation included some Greek islands into Turkey's exclusive economic zone, which the line will pass through. Therefore, by implication, the line cannot be implemented without obtaining Turkey's approval.
The issue of the Eastern Mediterranean Basin has taken an international dimension recently, after international powers such as the European Union and the United States of America intervened to limit the conflict between some of the region's parties, which reflects an international interest in what is happening in the region mainly for geopolitical reasons, and not for economic considerations, as it has an eastern basin.
The average is natural gas resources that do not exceed 2% of global reserves.
The background of the conflict over the Mediterranean gas goes back to 2010, when the US Geological Survey announced that the eastern Mediterranean basin contains 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 1.7 billion barrels of oil reserves, and after the continuing discoveries, its natural gas reserves are now To 200 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to previous statements by the Egyptian Minister of Petroleum.
After the discoveries, and because all the countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean region suffer from a deficit of energy, these countries did not procrastinate in seeking to discover wealth on the sea floor.
The conflict began to take its legal form since 2013, when Egypt and Cyprus signed an agreement to demarcate the maritime borders between the two countries in December 2013, in return Turkey sought to explore for gas in the waters of Cyprus in coordination with the government of Northern Cyprus - a part that Turkey occupied in 1974, and it is not recognized. Nobody except Turkey.
Following the Egyptian-Cypriot agreement, discoveries in Egyptian waters continued, the most prominent of which is the Zohr field, which is the largest gas field discovered in the eastern Mediterranean so far.
In this context, Turkey found itself in isolation in the eastern Mediterranean, especially with the existence of historical conflicts with many coastal countries of the basin on top of them Greece and Cyprus, so the Turks did not hesitate to harass the ships that searched for gas and oil off the coasts of Cyprus and Greece, in recent years, which Pushing Athena to resort to NATO to stop the encroachment on its sovereignty.
In an effort to find a foothold in the Mediterranean gas cake, Turkey took advantage of the Libyan conflict, to sign with the Libyan Government of National Accord last November a memorandum of understanding to demarcate the maritime borders, the agreement that has been criticized by the European Union, and repeated denunciations by the rest of the basin countries, considering it not guaranteeing Any rights for the rest of the countries of the eastern Mediterranean basin, the last of those convictions was a joint declaration by Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and France, and the UAE joined it to reject Turkish provocations.
It should be noted that the operations of extracting and marketing natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean basin region face multiple economic and commercial challenges, as there is a surplus of global gas supply at the present time with the launch of many projects for the production of natural gas in many countries of the world, which will increase competition between producers Gas, and puts pressure on future natural gas prices.
At the same time, many of the major consumers of fossil fuels are also shifting towards expanding the use of renewable energy in order to reduce carbon emissions.
Also, there is a difficult task for natural gas producers in the eastern Mediterranean to market gas in European markets in light of intense competition with the supplies of other producers, such as Russia, Norway and others, which are attractive in their prices compared to eastern Mediterranean gas, and they may also face strong competition in Asian markets, such as India. And China, with abundant supply from other producers such as Australia and Russia.
It is estimated that the prices of supplying gas in the Eastern Mediterranean will rise above the global average for gas in the future, which is due to two considerations, namely the high cost of extracting gas from the Eastern Mediterranean due to the presence of resources in deep water, as well as the high costs of gas transportation and marketing projects such as the East Med pipeline. "Which extends about 2000 km to reach the European markets and at an investment cost that may exceed 7 billion dollars, while the establishment of liquefied gas terminals is not commercially and economically feasible for some producers such as Cyprus due to the limited gas resources."
The following are the most prominent of these possible scenarios:
1) The consensus scenario: This scenario is based on the possibility of consensus between the countries of the region regarding the demarcation of maritime borders in accordance with the rules of international law, especially after Turkey faced a group of regional and international pressures, and this could be done according to the forum established by Cairo - the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum - which includes 7 countries and its membership is open to the rest of the countries of the region, but this assumption faces many challenges in light of the Turkish policy aimed at bypassing international law and border demarcation agreements concluded between the countries of the region, and this scenario can be realized due to these countries ’awareness of the escalation mechanisms that may cause a threat. Regional and international security and peace without achieving mutual benefit from the newly discovered gas wealth.
2) Escalation and military confrontation: This scenario assumes the continuation of the Turkish policy of illegal exploration for gas in the areas of the countries of the region, and its continued pursuit of escalatory policies for them, and the creation of their own alliances, which may develop into the possibility of imposing political, economic and military sanctions, and the escalation may range Between economic and political sanctions and military skirmishes, to the point of direct military confrontation between more than one country in this region.
Kamal Gaballa, Former Managing Editor of Al-Ahram