Battle For Resources in Eastern Mediterranean: France Sends Ships, Jets

“Turkey is determined to be steadfast and firm in the face of mounting pressures”

The search for oil and gas by Turkey in eastern Mediterranean waters has pitted the country against Greece, Cyprus and the entire EU bloc. Calling Turkey’s move an “aggression over oil and gas resources” in the region, former US National Security Advisor John Bolton says it “is a direct result of US global retreat”.

According to reports, France is deploying two Rafale fighter jets and a naval frigate in the area amid escalating tensions in the energy-rich region.

France is also at odds with Turkey over the crisis in Libya. “They will not get anywhere by acting like bullies, whether in Libya, the northeast of Syria, in Iraq or the Mediterranean,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu during a visit to Switzerland on Friday.

DesPardes asked defense and security expert Dr. S.M. Ali (based in Malaysia) for his views on France sending jets and ships to tense eastern Mediterranean. In his opinion, France has another interest. “As the colonial master, France sees a special responsibility to protect the interests of the Maronite, Catholic and Druze communities vis-a-vis Shi’a Muslims in Lebanon. Asked why, he says, “Lebanon with Hizballah still powerful, is likely to come under greater Iranian influence”, Therefore, France interest in Lebanon is “maintaining a communal-Sectarian balance of power to prevent a Shia take over”.

Turkey accuses France of acting like a bully and has warned Greece of retaliation against any attack on its survey vessel in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey and Greece are vehemently at odds over overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources in the increasingly volatile region.

The two nations are Nato allies.

There are also tensions around Cyprus over rival exploration rights. The Republic of Cyprus and Greece do not accept any such rights for Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus in the region.

French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Turkey to halt oil and gas exploration in the area. A Turkish survey ship began such a mission on Monday, angering Greece.

Mr Macron told Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis that the French military would monitor the situation.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the only solution in the Mediterranean was dialogue and that his country was not chasing adventure.

“If we act with common sense and reason, we can find a win-win solution that meets everyone’s interests,” he said.

France already has a helicopter-carrier, Tonnerre, heading to Beirut with aid to ease the city’s suffering after the devastating 4 August port explosion.

The French frigate La Fayette has been on exercises with the Greek navy and is staying in the area. The Rafale jets were in Cyprus for an exercise and are now relocating to Souda, on the Greek island of Crete.

Mr Macron tweeted: “I have decided to strengthen the French military presence temporarily in the Mediterranean, in co-operation with Greece and other European partners.

DesPardes asked a former Vice Admiral and think head head Hasham Bin Saddiq (Islamabad based) on the recent development in eastern Mediterranean. “The stand off is yet another row over competing maritime boundaries claim and resources therein”, he said. The “recent events such as conversion of Hays Sofia to mosque and Turkey’s support to Libya’s UN-backed govt have added fuel to the fire”. In his view, President Erdoğan is “pursuing national interest with full vigor”. Unless a negotiated settlement can be found an untoward incident is likely since stakes are high, Saddiq says. “It is not just a maritime dispute but rooted in a messy political tussle duly abetted by interference from extra regional players”.

“The eastern Mediterranean situation is worrying. Turkey’s unilateral decisions concerning oil exploration are provoking tensions. Those tensions must end, to enable calm dialogue between countries which are neighbors and allies in Nato.”

Germany has reportedly taken a leading role in trying to mediate the dispute. Erdogan had followed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s urgings and suspended the Oruc Reis (oil exploration vessel) mission last month to give talks another chance.

Greece then signed a maritime agreement with Egypt that appeared to be aimed at countering a similar deal Turkey had signed with the United Nations-recognized government in Libya last year.

The Egyptian deal was quickly followed by Erdogan’s decision to push ahead with the Oruc Reis mission this week.

“These tensions are worrying,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Friday. “What’s important is de-escalation” and for countries “to talk directly to each other”.

Turkey is determined to be steadfast and firm in the face of mounting pressures, former Islamabad-based think tank head Saddiq says.

“It has a credible Navy to safeguard its maritime interests as seen from their perspective”.

Chronis Kapalidis, a security expert at United Kingdom-based think tank, Chatham House, told Al Jazeera that Greece has expressed its readiness to sit at the table but warned that talks would be compromised if the two nations continued with their military build-up in the volatile region.

“You cannot have diplomatic discussion while you have naval vessels confronting each other in a small geographic area,” Kapalidis said.