Turkey media threatens Israel with 'Libya model' of water grab off Gaza

The concept pushed by the Turkish media, likely with support from the government, argues that Turkey can sign a deal with the Palestinians and increase support for them by sea.

FISHING BOATS on the coast of Gaza. (photo credit: REUTERS)
FISHING BOATS on the coast of Gaza.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkey’s far-right Yeni Safak newspaper argued on Monday, with a frontpage story, that Turkey might implement a “Libya model” for Israel by signing a deal with Hamas-run Gaza to get access to water and energy rights off Israel’s coast. The model is based on an agreement Turkey pushed on the embattled government of Libya in 2019 which resulted in Turkey sending Syrian mercenaries and drones to Libya in violation of an arms embargo. 

The concept pushed by the Turkish media, likely with support from the government, argues that Turkey can sign a deal with the Palestinians and increase support for them by sea. This would put Israel and Turkey on a military collision course. Turkey hosts Hamas leaders and supports Hamas. Its potential plan to link Turkey and Gaza by sea would harm Israel’s gas pipeline plans with Cyprus and Greece.  

The goal for Turkey was to ignore Greek and Cyprus claims to exclusive economic zones and blocks of undersea areas for energy exploration, to create a Turkish “blue motherland” grabbing all the Mediterranean around Cyprus, Greek islands and now near Israel. Turkey’s sea-grab has no precedent in international or maritime laws and norms. Nevertheless that has not stopped Turkey, empowered by the previous US administration, of sending its navy with “research vessels” to conduct energy exploration in areas usually claimed by Greece.  

To understand Turkey’s goal, it is that Turkey will draw a line from the Turkish coastline directly to Gaza, ostensibly dividing the sea and creating a corridor. This would cut off Israel from Greece and the East Med pipeline that Israel, Greece and Cyprus want to build. Turkey argues that Cyprus does not exist and that Greek islands have no maritime rights around them. Greece and Cyprus view things differently, arguing much of the Mediterranean around Cyprus and Greek islands is linked to them. Cyprus has deals with Egypt and Israel and Greece and Egypt have deals and good relations.  

Turkey illegally invaded Northern Cyprus in the 1970s and now wants a “two state” solution for Cyprus, potentially trying to create a second country on the island of Cyprus based around Northern Cyprus, which Turkey recognizes. This would complicate the claims at sea. But Turkey’s novel approach to the Palestinian issue takes this a step further, suggesting it could sign a deal with Hamas or the Palestinian Authority and grab control of the water off Israel, putting Turkey and Israel on a collision course. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is one of the world’s leading anti-Israel voices. He compares Israel to the Nazis and has sought sanctions against Israel during the recent conflict. His goal is to isolate Israel. He threatened the UAE against signing a peace deal with Israel. He hosts Hamas leaders with a red carpet in Istanbul and Ankara. He recently phoned Iran’s President and discussed joint work against Israel. 

The “Blue Homeland” idea at sea was published by a far-right paper as a trial balloon. In Turkey all media is pro-government and critical journalists are imprisoned or have to leave the country. So this article had the stamp of approval of the ruling AKP party. It quotes Rear Admiral Cihat Yayci, the “architect” of the current Turkish Mediterranean policy. The article argues that an agreement like the one in Libya, but with the Palestinians would “increase Palestine’s international recognition” and enable real support for the Palestinians.  

It would enable Turkey to contest Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Back in 2010 Turkey sent far-right Islamist IHH activists aboard the Mavi Marmara to try to break the blockade to Gaza. An Israeli command raid resulted in the deaths of ten Turks aboard the ships. Turkey would like to send its navy to Gaza. Israel is acquiring new Sa’ar 6 Corvettes to defend its Exclusive Economic Zone.  

Meanwhile Hamas in Gaza has tried to build unmanned submarines and use rockets to attack gas rigs at sea off the coast of Ashkelon. This is clearly an economic war and one designed to challenge Israel’s energy goals. The article argues that Turkey signed an agreement in 2011 with Northern Cyprus. It argues that Turkey can sign deals with governments that are not recognized by the international community. This likely means Hamas. The article specifies Gaza as an entity and compares it to Taiwan.  

“A position like in Libya can also be created. Here, the Israeli factor is not an obstacle to the agreement. If Palestine can become a member of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (East-Med), it can also sign an agreement with us. East-Med membership is an indication that Palestine is an international unit in its own right with a coast in the Eastern Mediterranean. Such an agreement could turn the game….in our favor. It will be a strategic chess move for us.” Turkey thus proposes using Palestinian membership in the gas forum to frustrate Israel’s relations with Greece and Cyprus and achieve Turkey’s goal.