TURKISH FACTOR IN “LEVIATHAN” AND “APHRODITE” ENERGY “WARS”
Deputy Director of “Noravank” Foundation,
Head of the Center for Political Studies, Candidate of Science (Political Science)
Finding vast reserves of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean has turned this region into a stage of new energy and political contradictions. On the one hand Israel and Cyprus, in which waters the reserves were found, and on the other hand Turkey, which wants to consolidate its positions in the Mediterranean, tend to protect their claims on the gas sea reserves.
“Leviathan” gas field as a source of energy security of Israel
Leviathan gas field, which is located in the Mediterranean Sea in 135km from the Israeli Haifa, was discovered in 2010 by the American Noble Energy Company, which concluded contract with Israeli government back in 2008 on initiating joint gas and oil exploration in the Mediterranean. The gas reserves found in 2010 can be considered rather impressive as, according to Noble Energy the total natural gas reserves in this field are estimated up to 450 billion m3 which makes it one of the biggest gas fields in the world. The importance of Leviathan for Israel is conditioned by the fact that it will exempt the Jewish state from the energy dependence on Egypt, which imports exports gas to Israel. Taking into consideration that the political processes going on in Egypt since 2011 can bring to power “Muslim brothers”, who are of radical anti-Israeli orientation, discovering and processing of a gas field of its own has become for Israel an issue of paramount national importance.
On the other hand Israel is interested in reducing the level of energy cooperation with Turkey, which has not proved to be a realizable partner for Israel recently and tends to strengthen its positions in the Middle East and with this purpose it widely uses local Islamists. A gas field, which has reserves counting 450 billion m3, may provide Israel consuming maximum 3 billion m3 of gas annually with gas for the near 100 years. This will be a sound solution of Israel’s energy security issue and ensure the energy independence from Egypt and Turkey.
At the same time it should be mentioned that Leviathan also has rather big oil reserves, the volume of which is not cleat yet. According to preliminary research there are about 500 million tons, which turns this field into crucial oil factor. This can become important not only for Israel but for the whole region either as Israel will not be dependent on Azerbaijani oil and Turkish Ceyhan port any more. The latter, according to the Turkish plans, should become the biggest energy hub in the region, the importance of which is conditioned by the dependence of the Mediterranean region on the Caspian oil. This dependence may simply disappear thanks to the Leviathan.
For Israel, which does not possess appropriate means for the development of the gas field and production of the gas, it is important from whom it will receive help for making necessary investments in the gas field. The consortium, which was established for the development of the oil field, consists of small companies, which cannot provide appropriate investments due to the scantiness of means.
“Leviathan” development consortium
Due to this reason it is eagerly discussed what real chances Noble Energy Company, which has $15 billion capitalization, has for the development of Leviathan. According to the opinion of the American analyst Jim Fink published by authoritative Investing Daily periodical1 this American company, with its headquarters in Texas, is obliged to cede its positions to a bigger company, which would be able to invest proper money for the development of the gas field and gas production.
It is obvious that Leviathan will attract new investors to the region and those investors may be the biggest oil and gas companies. The latter are closely connected with the western governments and in some of the companies the biggest shareholders are the members of the Jewish communities. Selling the share of Noble Energy to some big energy company, which would be able not only to provide technical backup of the project but also ensure necessary political support, taking into consideration aggressive policy of Turkey directed to obtaining the share of its own in Aphrodite and Leviathan, can become a natural continuation of the ongoing negotiations. But before referring to the Turkish interests let us turn to the Cypriot Aphrodite gas field, which is, according to the geologists, natural continuation of Leviathan and it has bound Israel and Cyprus politically.
“Leviathan” and “Aphrodite” gas fields
“Aphrodite” gas field as a guarantee of economic security of Cyprus
Aphrodite gas field, which is a continuation of the Israeli Leviathan but is situated in the Cypriot maritime zone, was discovered in 2011 by the same Noble Energy Company. The amount of gas there is considerable. According the geological exploration there are about 400-600 billion m3 of gas and about 300 million tons of oil. If we take into consideration that Aphrodite and Leviathan are two parts of the same gas field, we can state that this field is the biggest among those which have been discover over recent ten years.
After discovering Aphrodite Cyprus will, most probably, become a big energy carriers supplier, taking into consideration first of all the fact that the Republic of Cyprus does not have big consumer market, which is conditioned by an absence of industry in the country.
For Cyprus the discovered gas and oil supplies can become a guarantee of countries independence and sovereignty. After the economic crisis in Greece the financial and economic situation in Cyprus worsened as the Cypriot economy and financial system are directly dependant on Greece. The bankruptcy of the latter can result in the bankruptcy of Cyprus as well, because alongside with the immigration of the Greek population, the emigration of Muslim, mainly Arab migrants to the country has grown, especially after war in Iraq2. A new wave of emigrants to Cyprus is also expected from Syria where the political crisis may even deepen ethnic and religious contradictions and cause new wave of migration to Cyprus.
In this aspect the Cypriot authorities may use big oil and gas supply for the economic development and curbing migration of Greeks from the country. It is clear that considering all this Cyprus is ready to wage struggle for protection of its rights on newly discovered fields even if the other party is big and influential Turkey.
Turkey and fields in the Mediterranean
Since 2010 Turkey has been contesting rights of Cyprus and Israel on managing gas and oil fields discovered in the Mediterranean. As we can see from the map brought above, those fields are so far from the Turkish coast that one can state without any analysis that the Turkish claims are simply absurd. But Ankara is of other opinion and adopted policy which can complicate development of the gas and oil fields discovered by Israel and Cyprus and creation of an appropriate infrastructure.
Turkey contests the fact that these fields are situated in the waters which are not divided between the neighboring countries. Though in 2010-2011 Israel and Turkey adjusted the principles of delimitation of waters and signed a document on that delimitation, Turkey continues contesting Israeli and Cypriot rights.
In June 2011 the Minister of Energy of Turkey T. Yildiz stated that the Republic of Cyprus has no right to export gas without adjusting the issue of re-division of the reserves with Ankara. And the president of the Turkish part of Cyprus Dervis Eroglu stated that though the gas and oil fields were situated near the southern shore of the island they could not be developed only by the Greeks as they are of general importance for the whole island3.
On September 8, 2011, after the conclusion of Israeli-Cypriot agreement on delimitation, the Turkish prime-minister Erdogan in his interview to Al-Jazeera while speaking about Leviathan stated: “Israel has begun to declare that it has the right to act in exclusive economic areas in the Mediterranean,” meanwhile Israel “will not be the owner of this right”4. During the same interview Erdogan threatened that Turkish navy can set control over any part in the Mediterranean where Turkish interests are contested. The statement of the Turkish prime-minister evoked a wide response in Israel where it was taken as a hostile act and a threat. The Minister of Intelligence of Israel Dan Meridor called Erdogan’s statement “risky and serious”, adding that Israel was ready to face any challenge.
The former Israeli ambassador to Turkey Alon Liel who is today considered to be one of the most authoritative Israeli analysts, in his interview regarding Erdogan’s statement explained that in his opinion the main reason of such an approach of the Turkish side was rather stirring up of the Israeli-Cypriot cooperation (which is characterized not only by economic but also by military components) than the gas and oil fields. According to Liel after discovering huge reserves of oil and gas Israel will built a big port on the territory of Cyprus in cooperation with the local government and this port will serve for exporting oil and gas to the international markets. In his opinion this is the main reason of concern for Turkey as such a big port constitutes real threat to Ankara’s strategy5, among the provisions of which the suppression of the Greek part of the Cyprus and turning Turkey into a main port hub are mentioned.
Against the background of Turkish threats Israel without any concern spent the end of 2011 deepening partnership with Cyprus and Greece which aimed to set cooperation in energy and other strategic areas. In November the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel Dani Ayalon visited Athens; while speaking about the main goal of the negotiations he said: "We're going to talk about making Greece and Cyprus distribution centers for Israeli gas in Europe, which needs to diversify its sources."6
Israel has been continuing the policy directed to the deepening of relations with Greece and Cyprus in recent months either, especially after Turkey’s military gamble in December 2011.
Israeli-Cypriot military alliance
On December 20, 2011 Turkish naval forces unexpectedly started naval trainings in the proximity of Aphrodite and Leviathan and it could be seen from the Israeli and Cypriot ships which were carrying out geological exploration that Turkish forces trained scenarios of attacks on small static vessels (the type of vessels the Israelis and Cypriots had there). This was regarded by both Israel and Cyprus as a threat which was followed by the statement of the Minister of Infrastructure of Israel U. Landau that they would continue their works and that they were ready to respond to any attack. On the next day after that incident Israel stated that it abolished a $90 million cost contract on supplying LOROP systems for the Turkish military aircrafts.
However, Israel’s real military and political response to Turkey followed in 2012. In February, at the negotiations between the president of Cyprus and prime-minister of Israel, for the first time, the issue of establishment of factual military alliance between Israel and Cyprus was discussed on the highest level. According to Jerusalem Post’s military analyst Yaakov Katz the main topic of the negotiations held in February was the deployment of the Israeli military air base on the territory of Israel in order to protect gas and oil fields in the Mideterranean7. Military air base, most probably, will be deployed at “Andreas Papandeu” air base in the south-western part of the island. According to UPI establishment of not only military air base but also deployment of a naval base, which would protect Cypriot oil fields from possible Turkish attacks, is crucial for Cyprus8. Currently, according to different Israeli and Greek non-official sources, including DEBKA, Israel and Cyprus initiated drafting of the agreement on creation of the military and political alliance.
While analyzing Turkey’s aggressive policy a lot of attention should be paid to the policy of the United States. Though Washington calls to embark on negotiations in case of aggravation of the situation and settle the issue peacefully, the United States, nevertheless, provides support to Israel and Cyprus. According to DEBKA, on December 20, 2011, before the Turkish side started its naval trainings the US Secretary of State H. Clinton during her talks with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus E. Kozakou-Marcoullis advised to go full steam ahead with gas drilling and ignore Turkish harassment9. Most probably, the support of H. Clinton served a ground for the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus to criticize Turkey during his address at Woodrow Wilson Center; according to him Ankara is responsible for deepening of contradictions in the region. As one of the participants of the meeting wrote in his blog this was hailed by the audience.
It is obvious that Washington stood by Israel and Cyprus in the Mediterranean crisis. As for Israel everything is clear, and concerning Cyprus there are two main incentives directing Washington. The first one is to restrain Turkey’s growth and curb strengthening of the latter in the region. The second one is, taking into consideration the fact that Noble Energy will cede its share to bigger companies, ensure that these companies will be American and not Russian. Especially if we take into consideration that deep cooperation has existed between Moscow and Nicosia.
Anyway, it is obvious that the contradictions in this region will deepen which will be furthered by general instability in the Near East. New developments which can cause aggravation of both energy and military-political contradictions and formation of new military and political alliances are expected in the years to come.
1Jim Fink - Israel’s Huge Natural Gas Discovery. Investing Daily // 21 January, 2011.
2Fatima El-Issawi and Myria Georgiou - Media use at the crossroads: Nicosia // Journalism 2010 #11: P. 758-763.
3Hürriyet Daily News | 9/6/2011.
4Simon Henderson, Turkey’s Threat to Israel’s New Gas Riches, Washington Institute, September 14, 2011.
5Ethnan Bronner, Threat by Turkish Premier Raises Tensions With Israel// New York Tomes, September 9.
6Israel ups gas field guard, plans exports // UPI, November 23, 2011.
7Israel seeks Cyprus base to guard gas fields// Jerusalem Post, February 9, 2012.
8Israel tightens Med defense links over gas // UPI, January 11, 2012.
9Turkish warships shell narrow water between Israeli and Cypriot gas fields // DEBKAfiles, 25 December, 2011.
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