Military escalation in the Mediterranean

11 August, 2020

The European news media seem to be in a real conspiracy of silence. Spanish TV yesterday reported a domestic fire in Baltimore and did not say a word about the military tensions in the sea that washes more than half of its shores. Only German television warned today of the danger of the escalation between Greece and Turkey, noting that Egypt is also involved, which gives the conflict a greater dimension. But as soon as one leaves Europe, either in the main Japanese media or in the Arab international press, the conclusion is explicit: Military escalation seems inevitable in the Mediterranean after Turkey announced a new seismic survey on August 10 in disputed areas that overlap with a maritime [exclusive economic] zone that its arch-enemies Egypt and Greece agreed to [share] last week.

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Where did all this come from?

Map with the sea borders draw in agreement. between Turkey and Lybia.

Since we began this blog, we have been closely following the imperialist development of Turkey from Azerbaijan to Libya via Greece, Syria and Sudan. Last year, summarizing last year’s events and pointing out alerts for 2020, we warned that this year Turkey would increase the military threat against Greece and its allies (Cyprus, Israel, Egypt) in the Eastern Mediterranean in order not to be left out of the big gas business. The Turkish move in Libya was to sign a water delimitation treaty between the government of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tripoli – recognized by the UN – and Ankara, which for the first time internationally acknowledged the expansionist ambitions of the Erdoganists in the Mediterranean, the Blue Turkey that is part of the neo-Ottoman dream of Turkish imperialism.

Turkish geological exploration vessel Oruç Reis.

Less than three weeks ago, we saw Turkish diplomacy paralyze European sanctions and the Egyptian invasion of Libya aiming at a new peace process. Greece was thus frustrated in its attempts to mobilize the EU in order to impose disabling sanctions making the costly Turkish military effort in the Mediterranean impossible. Stressing that it was aware of the move, the Turkish government made a threat to send prospecting missions to waters in dispute with Greece, taking the tension from one front to the other. The tactic was not new: pivoting its military efforts from Syria to Libya saved a regime that only a few months ago was on the ropes during the most intense weeks of the Covid pandemic.

But finally, when the expedition was underway, it was cancelled and the Turkish warships returned to their bases. The reason was that the EU had organized behind the scenes exploratory negotiations between Turkey and Greece.

EEZ claimed by Greece in red, claimed by Turkey in blue and border with Egypt in continuous red line.

But Greece continued to push the envelope on Turkey’s progress. On August 6, 2009, signed a water delimitation agreement with Egypt that divided between both states the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) also claimed by Turkey. The agreement, which involves cessions to Cairo over unexplored gas zones, caused controversy between the Syriza opposition, which was more expansionist than anyone else, and the government, which claimed that the worst was avoided, since delimiting the EEZ directly with Egypt, as had been done before with Italy, was the only available way to curb Turkish expansion.

The agreement apparently took Ankara by surprise and angered the Turkish hawks. Erdogan ordered the negotiators to withdraw immediately. The army announced a firing exercise on Monday and Tuesday in a nearby area southwest of the Turkish coast between Turkey and the Greek island of Rhodes. And a new NAVEX, which took Turkish sovereignty over the EEZ for granted, was issued to warn that the geological exploration ship that had cancelled its work, the Oruç Reis, would resume it.

On the verge of an armed conflict

Top view of the fleet escorting the Oruç Reis published by the Turkish army.

Yesterday, Monday, the Oruç Reis entered the waters in dispute with Greece escorted by a Turkish navy flotilla. The Turkish Ministry of Defense immediately posted images on a tweet. The Greek navy, sent messages every 15 minutes since it entered the disputed waters instructing the Turkish ships to leave them while the ship laid its cables on the seabed. Uselessly, of course, because the noise of the escorting ships’ engines prevents any useful geological listening. It was the least important thing. The aim of his mission was not to obtain data but to establish the determination of the Ankara government. Problem, the determination of the Greek imperialism is not minor. The Greek foreign minister declared this morning that Greece will not accept faits accomplis And the full Greek army entered a state of high alert this morning.

The mood in Greek barracks and sea bases is already warlike. The statements of the Greek military prior to the first and failed mission of the Oruç Reis are not so easily forgotten. At that time, only a few weeks ago, they said that if the ship’s cables touch the Greek continental shelf, Turkey will have full and exclusive responsibility for what follows. The head of the Greek army went so far as to promise that whoever steps on Greek soil will first be burned and then be asked for his name.

The Turkish cartographic argument. The Oruç Reis would not have left the Turkish EEZ… in dispute.

Mitsotakis will have telephone conversations today with European presidents and the Greek chancellery has already requested an urgent meeting of the council of foreign ministers. And Erdogan, as always, is playing at combining faits accomplis with proposals for a major regional negotiation process to redraw the maritime borders of the entire Mediterranean.

In other words, we are facing an armed negotiation in which the different and contradictory imperialist interests of the coastal countries increase their pressure to the edge of an armed conflict. Of course, none of them has any intention of openly initiating it. All would prefer to see their interests flourish with no other violence than that of threat and imposition by the facts. But they are not playing alone. And if tension escalates, the turnaround will be little less than impossible.


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