The discovery of rich hydrocarbon reserves under the Eastern Mediterranean Sea brought the attention of regional, global actors and energy giants to the region.
It has surged tensions as not all littoral countries are on the same page and some breach international law and norms with unilateral moves.
With a game-changing maritime delimitation agreement in late 2019 with Tripoli-based internationally recognized government in Libya, Ankara re-asserted its rights in the region in line with international sea law and announced its maritime boundaries.
Regional friction increased in early January as the regional trio of Greece, Israel and Greek Cypriot administration of Cyprus Island signed a controversial agreement for an EastMed pipeline project designed to transfer gas to Europe while ignoring Turkey.
Ismail Sahin, an academic in Bandirma 17 Eylul University, said it would be economically wiser and politically more constructive to transfer the regional gas to Europe through Turkish maritime zones.
"It is obvious that [the transfer of gas through the Turkish zone] will positively contribute to Turkey's relations with the EU, Israel and Greece," Sahin said, adding it would also bring alternatives to the solution of the Cyprus dispute.
"The EastMed project stands before the EU as an option lacking a reasonable explanation in the sense of economy and politics," he said. "Therefore, any sane expert can immediately realize it is a political imposition."
Arguing that anti-Turkey rhetoric of certain regional actors would undermine their own economic and political interests, Sahin said it would be wise to cooperate with NATO member and EU candidate Turkey.
"In this context, the Exclusive Economic Zones [EEZ] in the Eastern Mediterranean must be determined with an international conference where all littoral countries are present," he said, and suggested a model similar to the European Coal and Steel Community that laid the foundation of the EU might be launched.
- Turkey's objectives
Sahin went on to say that the accession of Greek Cypriot administration to the EU harmed bilateral ties with Turkey and caused the union to have a biased approach towards Ankara, which could play a pivotal role in meeting the energy needs of the EU.
He said Ankara had two objectives in the Eastern Mediterranean: Securing Turkey and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' (TRNC) rights arising from international law and paving the way for a large energy project not excluding Turkey.
"All maps demonstrate that the most reasonable route between Asia, Europe and Eastern Mediterranean is Turkey," he said, calling on the union to realize Turkey's position and come up with alternatives to work with Ankara.
Noting that Turkey made its military presence felt in the Mediterranean region, however, he said Ankara always stood with diplomacy and was ready to cooperate with regional and international actors as long as they come up with reasonable alternatives.
Recep Yorulmaz, director of Economic Studies at Ankara-based think tank ORSAM, said Turkey's arguments in the region would serve the interest of all parties as they were based on a cost-effective and diplomatic approach.
"The bloc of Greece, Greek Cypriot administration, Israel and Egypt will eventually have to take a common ground with Turkey," Yorulmaz said, emphasizing Ankara's approach would serve the interest of all parties. In fact, Israel and Egypt were dependent on Turkey to some extent due to their self-interests, he said.
He went on to say that the maritime deal with Turkey in late November helped Libya re-gain its maritime zones that were illegally usurped by Athens and it could set an example for Cairo and as it too would find an opportunity to expand its maritime zone if an agreement was reached by Turkey. Previously, senior Turkish officials said Turkey was ready to discuss regional issues with any actors involved except the Greek Cyprus administration which it does not recognize.
In an op-ed published earlier in 2020, Rear Admiral Cihat Yayci -- the architect of Turkey's maritime deal with Libya -- said Egypt would re-gain about 11,500 square kilometers (4,440 square miles) of maritime zone from Greek Cypriot administration if Cairo found common ground with Ankara.
Yayci also argued that Israel, in case of a deal with Turkey, would gain a maritime zone of over 16,000 square kilometers (6,177 square miles) while its deal with the Greek Cypriots caused it to lose 4,600 square kilometer-long (1,776-square mile) maritime territory.
- Cost-effective, shortest way to transfer energy
The rear admiral also said Lebanon lost almost 4,000 square kilometers (1,544 square miles) of maritime zone due to its deal with the Greek Cypriot administration.
Yorulmaz said Egypt seemed determined to stay in the anti-Turkey bloc, which actually contradicts with the national interests of Cairo.
"It does not seem possible that Egypt would pursue Turkey’s friendly policy unless a national and democratic administration assumes power in Egypt," he said.
Israel, on the other hand, needs to realize Turkey is the cost-effective and shortest way to transfer energy to the international market, according to Yorulmaz.
Notably, the ORSAM fellow said the Turkey-Libya deal could also set an example for countries excluded by the bloc, including Lebanon. "It is possible that similar agreements might create different equations."
He went on to argue that the EU's current position favoring Greece and Greek Cypriots contradicted with union's own interests as Turkey "would definitely reach its goal of becoming the energy center in the region in the long and mid-run" thanks to country's geographical location.
Stressing that one of the EU's greatest goals was to reduce its dependence on Russia with regards to energy issues, he said the EU should not take a position against Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean and not act like an international judge.
He said the union's sanctions have so far seemed like showpieces and ineffective, which might be a result of their awareness of Turkey's policies arising from the international norms.
By Ali Murat Alhas