The Libya-Turkey energy deal is escalating the dangers of open conflict between Ankara and Athens. Turkey and Libya have demarcated potential oil and gas-rich zones in the Mediterranean. This maneuver has also irritated Egypt.
On October 3rd, Turkey signed a preliminary agreement with Libya’s Tripoli GNA government to explore for oil and gas off the Libyan coast without specifying whether the surveys would take place in waters south of Greece, where Athens says the Turks have no right to be.
Turkey and Greece are already in constant conflict over their spheres of influence in the Aegean Sea. Recently, Germany condemned Turkey’s threats over Greece’s sovereignty of its Aegean islands.
Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias accused Turkey of exploiting “the turbulent situation in Libya to further destabilize security in the Mediterranean region and establish a regional hegemony.” The Libyan deal is now poised to threaten and expand those rivalries.
Libya-Turkey Energy Deal Escalates Mediterranean Tensions
This Ankara-Tripoli pact comes at an especially feverish time, which is only compounded by the fact that Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus will hold elections next year, throwing the risks of heightened voter patriotism into the East Mediterranean geopolitical mix over 2023.
Although Greece and Turkey regularly accuse each other of provocations over the Aegean Sea with fighter jets, the rhetoric has now been cranked up to alarming levels. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has even warned that his forces could “come down suddenly one night.” Interpreting this as a direct threat to Greek islands, Dendias warned its allies that they would need to crack down on Ankara or risk another “Ukraine” crisis.
“People underestimate the potential for conflict and there is a feeling among the U.S. and the EU that we have seen this movie before, and nothing really changes; I don’t know if that’s the case any longer,” said Ryan Gingeras, a professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in California.
He said this doesn’t mean that war is imminent or likely but noted that military confrontation is now more probable.
Together, Greece and Egypt Condemned the Libya-Turkey Deal
The Greek and Egyptian governments have stood together to oppose the Libya-Turkey deal. Their arguments prioritized a violation of international law. Furthermore, it was mildly suggested that there were common environmental concerns. However, this certainly appeared understated.
Turkey and the Balance of Power
The balance of power now is perceived by many to be in favor of Ankara. Turkey has gone to war multiple times since 2016 and has prevailed. While Turkey is not the only global government with this ability, it has demonstrated ability. It can change political conditions through military interventions on several fronts.
With the coming June election in Turkey, Erdoğan, whose party doesn’t have majority support, intends to gather votes from the nationalist Good Party.
“That opportunity can be offered to him either by Greece or by Syria,” said Angelos Syrigos, professor of international law and deputy minister of education. “In legal terms, there’s the concept of potential malice. Ankara may not aim to kill anyone, but by its extreme behavior it could lead us to war.”
Egypt and Turkey Bumping Heads
Egypt also shares concerns about economic and foreign affairs in the Mediterranean. They have halted dialogue with Turkey as a warning. Libya borders Egypt to the west.
Since 2013—when Egypt’s first president, Mohammed Morsi, an Islamic politician who came to power after the Arab Spring in that nation, was overthrown—Egypt and Turkey have also been at odds.
Since then, Turkey has supported thousands of Egyptian dissidents, including Muslim Brotherhood members. Some loyalists of the Morsi movement work for TV channels based in Turkey that target Egyptian audiences. The TV channels mostly chide the Egyptian regime. The Brotherhood has been legally designated a terrorist group in Egypt since 2014.
Turkey and Egypt briefly improved earlier this year, with Ankara moving to minimize criticism of Abdel Fatah El-Sisi’s Egypt government.
Turkey Wades in Libya’s Troubled Waters
According to the Egyptian top diplomat, the current energy agreement with Libya violated the United Nations-brokered Skhirat, Morocco agreement. This defines the authority and limited duration of Libya’s interim government.
Turkey has been wading in Libya’s troubled waters since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011. Many world powers have done so. For many, there is a question. Is Turkey becoming a threatening world power?