Energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean continue to determine the foreign policies of countries in the region. The most recent indication being the rapid realization of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum established under the leadership of Egypt, Greece, Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus and Israel. Having held its first meeting last January, the forum met for the second time on July 25th in Cairo. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hosted the meeting that was attended by energy ministers from Israel, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus and Palestine as well as a representative from Jordan’s ministry of energy. While Rick Perry, the U.S. Energy Minister, was guest of honour in the forum, representatives from France, the European Union and the World Bank were also present. This indicates that the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum is strongly supported by both the US and the EU.
It was underlined in the meeting that the main objective of the forum is to serve the interests of the members in terms of energy products in the Eastern Mediterranean. The forum will aim to create a unified group that will work together in exporting the natural gas resources from the Eastern Mediterranean to global markets. Despite a regional agenda, it was also noted that five of the major players in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Libya and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was not present in the meeting. These countries were left out due to regional confrontation with countries like Egypt, Israel, Egypt and Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus.
Despite the region-wide division between countries, the second meeting of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum reveal that the participating countries will continue to advance their cooperation to export natural gas. It was stated in the forum that member countries would respect each other’s rights in the Eastern Mediterranean and work together to use hydrocarbon resources in the most efficient way. Participants also agreed that the forum would pave the way for a sustainable gas market by using the resources in the region. In addition to these objectives, many of the details regarding the technicality and operational aspects were also settled in the second meeting of the forum.
Ankara has been consistently emphasizing that it will not allow other countries in the region to violate the rights of Turkey and Northern Cyprus.
It is obvious that one of the most enthusiastic countries in the forum is Egypt. Cairo has made a significant effort for the realization of the forum by establishing strong network of interest with regional actors, particularly with Israel, Greece and Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus. Egypt’s main target with this forum is to emphasize its strategic importance in the region. By establishing this forum, Cairo also aimed to corner Turkey, its main rival in regional politics, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Sisi regime has been instrumentalizing the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum for its foreign policy objectives.
A similar observation can be made on the position of Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus and Greece. Both countries aim to limit Turkey’s activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and force Ankara to cease its activities in the area. In order to create further pressure on Turkey they seek the support of the United States and the European Union as well. In addition to this, in confronting Turkey’s military capabilities, both Athens and Nicosia rely on the defence cooperation with Israel and Egypt, the two leading military powers in the region.
The biggest obstacle for the forum is the exclusion of five major players of the Eastern Mediterranean: Turkey, Libya, Lebanon, Syria and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. All who have legal rights in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is widely questioned that without the representation of these countries, the decisions and policies of the forum regarding natural gas resources would be illegitimate. In addition, Turkey has toughened its stance towards the Eastern Mediterranean and made clear that it is the major player in the region. Ankara has also been consistently emphasizing that it will not allow other countries in the region to violate the rights of Turkey and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It is widely argued that the most reliable route to transfer natural gas from Eastern Mediterranean to European markets go through Turkey. Therefore, the success of any region-wide initiative to export natural gas resources from the Eastern Mediterranean to world markets is dependant on Turkey’s inclusion.