(Map at the end of the text)
By Charles J. Mouratides
Executive Director, CHI
Unbridled killing of innocents and “scorched earth” operations by civil war armies have obscured major peaceful geopolitical changes occurring in the Eastern Mediterranean basin.
The peaceful changes are shaping through daring Israeli and Greek domestic and international policies, and affect the entire region. They are historic and promising.
The overall change is two-fold: Geostrategic and economic.
Evolving world and domestic conditions in Israel, Cyprus and Greece are fueling the change. It is happening regardless of resentment and opposition by neighboring countries such as Turkey or political entities such as the Palestinian Authority. And it is happening regardless of civil wars in Libya, Egypt and Syria.
Changes through coup d’état or civil wars have been common in some Eastern Mediterranean countries. They happen every 30 or so years. And each time we witness a familiar pattern of developments.
Take Syria. Under young dictator Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian army today is virtually demolishing Homs, an ancient city of 665,000 people. Under Bashar’s father 30 years earlier, the dictator Hafez al-Assad, scorched earth was again the operational army practice in Hama (pop. 225,000), a district adjacent to Homs, one of Syria’s 13. In Libya; in Egypt; in Syria, it has always been a struggle to death for power. Once power changes hands, dreams for a substantive political change retreat to a predictable outcome.
But the changes by Greece and Israel we are witnessing today demonstrate the existence of fundamental geostrategic and economic re-orientations. Much is due to gas discoveries and to strategic opportunities previously unavailable.
Drilling is already underway in Israel’s Tamar, Leviathan and other deep sea fields that hold an estimated 35 trillion c.f. of natural gas. Israel has partnered with Cyprus in drilling within the latter’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Deposits and anticipated drilling in Greece also help transform Eastern Mediterranean into a new center of global strategic importance. Some of the discoveries are within the EU, controlled at least partially by EU members Cyprus and Greece.
Eastern Mediterranean has suddenly become an alternate supplier of energy to EU which has depended heavily on Russian gas from West Siberian fields.
An expected gas pipeline to EU from Israel, Cyprus, Crete and the Peloponnese is a less costly alternative to the proposed Nabucco Azerbaijani gas pipeline. If Nabucco is funded – which the EU resists doing – and constructed, Russia would still be the supplier and Turkey would control this and the proposed Blue Stream 2 and Samsun-Ceyhan pipelines.
Recently, “Redesigning the European Energy Map” was the focus of Economist magazine’s world conference of ministers and policy makers held in Athens. Israel and Greece had just signed a Memorandum of Understanding “for the construction of an electric cable from Israel to Cyprus to Greece, which will allow for redundancy, reciprocal backup, security and long-term domestic energy for all the parties involved,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
Greek and Israeli ministers have also signed an agreement “for cooperation between their two countries in the field of environmental protection – to exchange knowledge (and) share expertise, with particular emphasis on issues of water management, sewage treatment and reuse, desalination, bio-gas and biomass production, (and) energy efficiency…,” as reported in Haaretz.
Such activities, of course, explain why Turkey is vehemently against Greek and Israeli gas drillings in the basin. But there are others standing in the shadows.
Russia wants to maintain sales monopoly to Europe and control prices through Gazprom. The state company’s reps have been visiting Israel trying to purchase the gas Israel will be producing. In 2011-12, Russia attempted to seduce Greece with financial offers, and has loaned $2 billion to Cyprus.
Russia also commands a presence through regular navy visits and, by year’s end, rebuilding the Tartus, Syria, naval base. It is expected to serve aircraft carriers and guided-missile cruisers. Likewise, French and British ships show their colors regularly. It is a reminder that the two powers once held a mandate over Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Cyprus and the land of modern Israel.
Policies Recognize Nexus
Still, another fundamental geostrategic change is shaping up. It is the apparent shift of exclusive Israeli geopolitical attention from the Arab states around it, to Europe as well. More than a half century of Israeli efforts, and of carrot-and-stick attempts to entice the Arab states to a meaningful relationship have fallen on deaf ears.
Of equal significance is Greece’s own rehabilitation of 60-year-old policies. Greece has obviously abandoned an almost knee-jerk pro-Arab stance in favor of policies friendly to Israel.
Now the world and Israel can view the Eastern Mediterranean not as the basin that separates it from Europe, but as the nexus. It is the body of water that actually connects Israel with Europe through Cyprus and Greece. In fact, Israel has also developed military relations with two EU countries on the Black Sea, Bulgaria and Romania.
Israel is undoubtedly part of Western culture: Heavily, a country of European immigrants; a market economy; an important part of the scientific revolution; a country with laws about private property rights and a representative government; the land of Judaism and the birthplace of Christianity.
This economic, strategic, political and cultural convergence places the alliance between Greece and Israel on a uniquely win-win foundation. Between them, there are no ideological or ethnic contentions that can weaken the alliance.
As it begins its third year, the alliance has withstood the departure from power of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou who worked with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to establish it. Significantly, in a development unusual for Greek politics and an indication of its importance, the alliance with Israel has not been challenged.
Last month, Greece, Israel and the U.S. held a combined naval exercise supported by aircraft in the Eastern Mediterranean. One of the aims was to demonstrate defense for off-shore energy platforms, such as those of Cyprus and Israel that have been threatened by Turkey.
This “first” for Greek naval forces featured participation of America’s 6th Fleet, while part of the exercise was launched from Crete. This also brings the point home to Greece and Cyprus: Israel is an indispensable partner with superb technology and security know-how when exploring the Aegean and the Mediterranean for economic benefit. ####
For a larger map & info click http://chicircle.org/index.php/perspective/i-can-see-it-clearly-now/ and select article “The Times They Are a-Changing. Blue lines: existing distribution system.
Nabucco & Blue Stream 2 (red dotted line in Black Sea,) and Samsum-Ceyhan (blue dotted line in Turkey) are proposed pipelines that would transport Russian gas to EU. They would be under the control of Turkey as would Nabucco which would carry Caspian Sea Azerbaijani oil whose distribution is largely determined by Russia. ###