The transatlantic alliance has periodically experienced deep divisions and diplomatic crises. The current situation in the Eastern Mediterranean seems to add one more such episode to its tumultuous history. Ever since the discovery of offshore hydrocarbons off the coast of Cyprus in 2011, the Eastern Mediterranean has experienced enhanced geostrategic competition. In 2012, Turkey started onshore drilling for oil and gas in the northern part of Cyprus, recognized by Turkey as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Since then, it has intermittently engaged in hydrocarbon explorations in the region, drawing heavy criticism for its gunboat diplomacy and display of military power at sea, based on a much-debated “Blue Homeland” (Mavi Vatan) doctrine for its maritime claims in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The unresolved Cyprus problem is a major contributor to the increasingly ambitious foreign policy of Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean. When Turkey first started drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, it initially aimed to put pressure on the government of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) with regard to reaching a negotiated settlement with Turkish Cypriots for sharing the profits from natural resources. Turkey’s awareness of its increased isolation in the Eastern Mediterranean is yet another contributor to its foreign policy in the region. To illustrate, in December 2018, the agreement concluded between Cyprus and Egypt declared their intentions to construct a pipeline connecting Egypt’s liquefied natural gas facilities to Cyprus’s Aphrodite field. In January 2019, the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum was created between the RoC, Greece, Italy, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, in order to develop a regional natural gas market. In February 2019, ExxonMobil made an announcement of a new natural gas discovery in offshore Cyprus. At the beginning of January 2020, Greece, the RoC, and Israel signed a trilateral undersea gas pipeline deal, bypassing Turkey. This, in turn, increased the stakes for Turkey’s maritime policies in the region, contributing to the momentum behind its hydrocarbon exploration. Turkey wanted access to natural resources and increased its regional presence in response to its perception of an anti-Turkish coalition appearing in the region. Moreover, Turkey’s unresolved maritime boundaries with Greece and the RoC are an additional factor in explaining the rising tensions in the region.