Energy discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean: conflict or cooperation?
The discovery of oil and naturalgas reserves in the Middle East at the beginning of the twentieth century changed the fate of the region. From a backwater of international politics, the Middle East became central to international strategic rivalries. Almost a century later, energy discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean are unlikely to bring about such tectonic shifts in the strategic fortunes of the Levant. Yet they have generated a fresh interest in their potential impact on existing regional disputes and power constellations. The recent discovery of sizable quantities of natural gas in the seabed between Israel and Cyprus has added to the complexity of international politics in the region. Cyprus and Israel are expected to be the first two states to benefit, as they have already signed large contracts for exploration and drilling projects that would soon turn them into net energy exporters. The possibility of discovering further energy reserves has revived the question of delineating the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of all littoral states in the Eastern Mediterranean and added one potential regional dispute. Turkey’s role has been important, not only because it is one of the region’s littoral states and a large energy importer, but also because it could serve as a transport hub for the delivery of extracted hydrocarbons to the world market. Nevertheless, the Cyprus question, disputes over the delineation of the EEZ and Turkey’s frozen relations with Israel have deterred regional cooperation, despite the positive effect that it could have, not least for European energy security.