Turkey’s changing security environment
The current situation highlights increased, intensive integration between the political agendas of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean affairs.
Turkish nationalists wave flags in Istanbul Photo: REUTERS
The time has come for Turkish strategists to adopt a greater strategic vision
for the Eastern Mediterranean basin and the Cyprus dispute which must be more
integrated with the Middle Eastern affairs. As a matter of fact, such a new
paradigm should cover a wide array of issues including the Turkish-Israeli
relations, energy security, and the possible rise of a pro-Tehran/pro-Hezbollah
Alawite state in Syria.
Throughout recent political history, Turkish
strategists mostly perceived the Cyprus issue and the Eastern Mediterranean
basin within the framework of Turkish-Greek competition, NATO and the EU agenda.
A quick scan of several Turkish think tanks’ geostrategic categorization would
confirm this assertion. Moreover, most of Turkey’s Cyprus experts prefer Greek
as a regional foreign language skill and focus on Turkish-Greek relations, EU
affairs, and international law. Practically none of Turkey’s Cyprus experts are
skilled in Arabic or Hebrew languages, naval strategy background, and
Turkish-Israeli or Turkish-Arab relations.
In brief, regardless of their
ideological differences, a wide spectrum of Turkish strategists consistently
reduces the Cyprus issue and even Eastern Mediterranean affairs to a simple
Turkish- Greek confrontation reading.
However, assessing the Cyprus issue
within the narrow framework of Turkish-Greek relations or EU affairs is
geopolitically flawed. The island of Cyprus is located at the intersection of
Anatolia, the Middle East and North Africa. It is in the easy reach of Turkey,
Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Israel. It should especially be noted that Turkey,
Lebanon, Syria and Israel are geographically closer to the island than
Furthermore, the island is located in the Levant sea basin of the
Mediterranean which covers the area between North Africa (Libya, Egypt), Turkey,
Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and Israel.
Therefore, Cyprus possesses
geopolitical integrity with the Greater Middle East or the Middle East and North
Furthermore, past events related to the Eastern
Mediterranean have prompted additional political, economic and military tensions
in the region. First, Greek Cypriots signed Economic Exploitation Zone (EEZ)
agreements with Lebanon in 2003, then with Egypt in 2007 and recently with
Israel in 2011. Additionally, by declaring an EEZ with 13 Exploration Blocs in
2007, they attempted to consolidate their licensing authority. In particular,
Greek Cypriots’ cooperation with Israel in the energy field can bring about
additional tensions to Turkish- Israeli relations.
In parallel, it was
meaningful that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stressed Turkey as “the longest
coastal state to Mediterranean” when he reacted against the leaked Palmer Report
in September 2011. Due to international law, coastal parameters hold special
importance in EEZ calculations.
As a matter of fact, following the
flotilla incident in 2010, the high-level diplomatic contact between Israel and
Greek Cypriot administration is noteworthy. In February 2012, for the first
time, an Israeli prime minister visited the Greek Cypriot administration, right
after President Peres’ visit in November 2011. Moreover, the visit of Demetris
Eliades, the defense minister of Greek Cypriot administration, in January 2012
and signings of two agreements on defense cooperation, and “exchange of
classified information” is a developing concern for Ankara.
turbulently changing security environment in the Eastern Mediterranean is not
limited to Israeli-Turkish tensions, and is far from over. Indeed, a set of
interrelated military-political factors continue to make the sea basin further
engaged in the current troublesome Middle Eastern agenda.
Moscow’s steady support for the Ba’athist tyranny in Syria is directly related
to the future of a Russian naval base in Tartus. Due to the historical
paradigm, which is a remnant of Tsarism, Russian strategic thought seeks to
avoid being caged in the frozen seas.
Secondly, some argue that one of
the Damascus’ objectives in its bloody crackdown is to pave the way for keeping
the geostrategic necessities for a possible Alawite state on the Mediterranean
coast, in case of a limited defeat against the uprising. According to this point
of view, the Assad dictatorship focuses on isolating Sunni-dominated areas from
the Mediterranean shores of the country, and more importantly, encouraging
Alawite migration toward the shores. Thus, by depending on Russian and Iranian
support, a lower-scale Ba’athist rule may survive in a divided Syria.
this scenario comes true, then a pro-Tehran Alawite state will be established as
another shareholder of the Eastern Mediterranean. It should be emphasized that
such a political structure will be in close accord with Hezbollah which
currently controls the energy ministry in Lebanon. And it should also be
emphasized that such an anti-Turkey Ba’athist state would have geopolitically
superior naval projection capabilities toward Northern Cyprus than would Greece.
A Turkish fighter jet shot down by the Syrian air defenses when flying over
international waters in June gives some idea of the significance of the pressing
Furthermore, the Greek administration of Southern Cyprus has
always been a safe haven for the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, thus,
the seizure of Syria’s Mediterranean shores by Ba’athist elements might be
tantamount to the establishment of a PKK terrorist maritime crescent against
Turkey from the Southern Cyprus to Latakiya. Moreover, Egypt has opened
the Suez Canal to Iranian warships since February 2011.
Ankara’s main rival in the sectarianpolitical tensions of the Middle East,
Tehran, is now in capable of acting in the Mediterranean where it has key and
rogue allies like Syria and Hezbollah. Thus, the sea basin has become a key
component of the Middle Eastern regional security environment.
the current situation highlights the increased and intensive integration between
the political agendas of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean affairs. This
integration necessitates a new geopolitical understanding and new geostrategic
imperatives. In the future, Middle Eastern conflicts are expected to have strong
reflections and implications in the sea basin.
In addition, hereafter
either worsening or restoration of Israeli-Turkish relations has to cover the
Eastern Mediterranean affairs. Finally, from now on, the Cyprus dispute will not
be defined by the romantic and revisionist character of Hellenistic fantasies,
but the true geostrategic facts of the Middle Eastern turbulence.
writer, who served as a post-doctoral fellow for the Begin Sadat Center for
Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, holds a PhD from the Turkish War
College, and a master’s degree from the Turkish Military Academy.