In 2009, large fields of natural gas were discovered below Israel’s coastal waters; in the subsequent years, researchers concluded that these were part of a massive deposit of gas and petroleum in the eastern Mediterranean, distributed among the territorial waters of Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, and Greece. Egypt and Israel have already begun exploiting these reserves, and Israel in particular is eager to join with Cyprus, Greece, and Italy in a major project—known as the East Med pipeline—that could export these fossil fuels to Europe, thereby relieving the EU of its reliance on Russia. But playing the role of spoiler is Turkey, motivated by its historic conflicts with Greece and Cyprus, its more recent hostility toward Israel, and its growing economic and diplomatic ties with Moscow—which include cooperation in the export of fuel. John Psaropoulos explains:
The key attraction of East Med is stability. It would be a risk-free, intra-EU route carrying committed volumes of gas to Europe for a quarter-century. Europe would in turn be a reliable client, in contrast to cash-poor regional economies [such as Jordan]. “We used to seek out investors in East Med. Now they are seeking us out,” says [Kostas Karayannakos, the executive director of gas supply for Greece’s public gas corporation].
For Karayannakos, the pipeline brings tremendous geopolitical advantages. . . . It is precisely this vision—of a pipeline that circumvents its exclusive economic zone, turns Cypriot energy interests into European energy interests, elevates the importance of Greece in the EU, and offers Greece and Cyprus a leading role in the EU’s relations with the Middle East—that concerns Turkey. Its displeasure has already caused one high-seas standoff. . . .
Turkey is the only country in the eastern Mediterranean that has so far found no proven and probable resources even though, [according to reliable estimates], it has spent at least $560 million on acquiring two seismographic research vessels and a drillship. It is also the only country that hasn’t defined its exclusive economic zone with its neighbors, but disputes theirs.