East Med Tensions: Greece & Turkey Inching Closer to Armed Conflict Over Oil & Gas Exploration

Written by | Friday, December 6th, 2019

Experts have warned that Greece and Turkey have come closer to armed conflict after Ankara threatened it would send a drilling ship to waters claimed and defended by Greece. In a surprised move by Turkey that signed a maritime boundary deal with Libya on 27 November, both countries have mapped out a corridor of water, as an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) stretching across the eastern Mediterranean between their respective coasts, cutting across a swath that is also claimed by Athens. EEZs allow countries exclusive rights to exploit natural resources including mineral wealth.
According to Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez, once the agreement is ratified by both sides, Turkish drill-ships will start an operation there to search for oil and gas. Greece’s Hellenic Navy has reportedly dispatched naval forces to the disputed area southeast of Crete, with a senior diplomat, speaking under the condition of anonymity, warning that “if a Turkish drillship does show up, our ships would take action against it, and that could lead to an armed confrontation… (which) could ultimately lead to war.” Athens is said to have already warned Turkey that it would not tolerate any exploration in the area Greece considers to be its EEZ.
Turkey and Greece have pursued a series of confidence-building measures since 1987, when their conflict over hydrocarbon exploration in the Aegean Sea almost escalated into a war. The confident-building measures include avoiding military exercises during the summer tourist season, establishing a direct line between the chairmen of the joint chiefs and defense ministers, and inviting officers from the other side to attend war games. However, not all measures have been observed, such as the direct telephone line between the military chiefs that was reportedly cut for a period during 2017-18.
In a related development on Thursday (5 December), Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiadis said his country would petition the international court at The Hague to defend it from Turkish explorations in the Cypriot EEZ. In the meantime, the EU and US have denounced Turkey’s exploration in the Cyprus-declared EEZ as being illegal, urging Ankara to stop its activities. “The European Union stands in full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus regarding recent actions by Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the Aegean Sea,” the European External Action Service (EEAS) said in a statement on Wednesday (4 December), calling on “Turkey … to respect the sovereignty and the sovereign rights of all EU member states.”

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