The Mediterranean is a critical region where security, geopolitics, and energy politics intersect. Recent trends of tensions and cooperation in this region have heightened the significance of the Mediterranean, which is marked by long-standing conflicts with energy-related components. Progress toward a resolution of such conflicts – especially those involving Cyprus, Israel and Lebanon, as well as Morocco and Algeria – can trigger broader cooperation and inclusivity in the region.
Energy can play a positive game-changing role in efforts to advance peace, regional cooperation and inclusivity in the Mediterranean. However, for this to happen, new conflict resolution initiatives in the region should take energy into account and include novel ways of solving existing regional divides.
Such methods include learning lessons and best practices from regional modalities; seeking engagement, even without recognition; advancing ad-hoc win-win arrangements between rivals; enhancing intra-regional mediation capacities and mechanisms; improving and connecting sub-regional energy architectures; collaborating regionally on safeguarding energy infrastructures; broadening energy cooperation to focus on renewable and green energies; leveraging the potential role of new actors in conflict resolution; promoting tripartite cooperation, also with external third parties; and fulfilling the potential of European Union involvement, as partner, funder and neighbor.
Countries engaged in intractable conflicts tend to see their realities as unique and their conflicts as exclusive. However, similarities between conflicts and processes towards their resolution exist, especially regarding conflicts that occur within the same region. Mediterranean countries should seek to learn lessons from each other’s experiences in energy-related conflicts, map best practices on advancing better inter-state relations and work to put them into action, whether as a tool for peacemaking or as a way to reach practical mutually beneficial arrangements.
Indirect deals can allow countries that don't recognize each other to solve conflicts
The lack of recognition between some Mediterranean countries prevents direct dialogue and hence leads to the continuation of regional conflicts. The recent maritime border deal between Israel and Lebanon exemplifies how rival actors can engage indirectly to solve specific issues and enjoy concrete benefits, without officially recognizing each other.
Another example is the 2011 deal that enabled the Greek Cypriot side to indirectly purchase electricity from the Turkish Cypriot side via the two chambers of commerce after a power plant explosion reduced Greek Cypriot electricity production by one-third. These types of engagements should be encouraged in the Mediterranean. They can foster a culture of cooperation and create positive experiences between sides who do not formally recognize one another.
IN THE case of Israel and Lebanon, natural resources triggered a problem-solving process characterized by pragmatism that can and should be replicated in other conflicts in the Mediterranean region. The potential for economic gains and increased stability generated by energy resources provided a unique opportunity to advance an ad-hoc win-win arrangement. Animosity was temporarily and unofficially put aside to advance their shared interests, with the assistance of external mediation.
This approach holds much potential. Shifting the dynamics of the negotiations, moving away from rigid claims to more practical arrangements and leveraging incentives can facilitate mutually beneficial outcomes for countries in the Mediterranean and thus create momentum for conflict resolution and increased inclusivity in regional mechanisms.
Mediterranean countries tend to seek mediation by external powers for the energy-related conflicts they are involved in. Nevertheless, their immediate Mediterranean neighbors may be well suited to lead or play a central role in conflict resolution. Regional countries are likely to be directly affected by a possible escalation, and may thus be more motivated to advance stability; they may have a better understanding of the conflicting parties, their negotiation culture and central needs; and they can have easier access to key stakeholders within the conflicting sides.
On the downside, they may have alliances and interests that could be seen as biased toward one party or another. Mediterranean countries should seek to engage their neighbors as mediators, provide mutual conflict resolution support and establish a regional mechanism or institution that focuses on conflict resolution.
In both the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, sub-regional architectures were established to advance cooperation, including on energy issues. In the Eastern Mediterranean, these include the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), and the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East Climate Change Initiative (EMME CCI). To better support conflict resolution, these initiatives should include Turkish and Lebanese participation.
In the Western Mediterranean, the 5+5 Dialogue has been operating since 1990, but only in 2010 and 2015 did its meetings focus on energy and the environment. Such topics should become central pillars of future meetings. These sub-regional energy-related architectures should cooperate, including under the umbrella of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), with the goal of improving bilateral and multilateral relations.
In addition, safeguarding the existing energy infrastructures in the Mediterranean region is essential for energy security and for a reliable and uninterrupted energy supply. It is an interest that even rival countries in the region share. Cooperation between Mediterranean countries on this aspect can foster responsible and sustainable exploration, production and transportation processes of energy resources.
This would ensure their optimal and sustainable use, and enable regional countries to have better conditions to try and meet their energy needs. Regional cooperation can also assist the development of new energy transfer routes, help enhance existing energy infrastructures, and foster practical win-win arrangements.
Cooperation between Mediterranean countries is also crucial for paving the way towards energy transition in a region that is a hotspot for global climate change. Energy-related cooperation in the Mediterranean should be broadened to include a coordinated policy for achieving energy security and incorporating renewable energy sources.
Regional mechanisms, such as the EMGF, should expand their focus from natural gas to green energies, as the Mediterranean holds much potential to become a hub for renewable energy production, alongside hydrocarbons, in line with the EU’s European Green Deal. Countries in the region are already advancing such cooperative endeavors, bilaterally and with EU involvement, and this should be enhanced as a tool for enlarging the pie and reducing competition over resources in energy-related conflicts.
SIMILAR TO the global milieu, energy-related conflicts in the Mediterranean involve politics, the economy and areas that require technical know-how. Non-state actors are well-suited to provide best practices and relevant technical expertise that can assist in resolving conflicts that could benefit from innovative technologies. They can also more easily convene rival parties in quiet, unofficial settings.
As the Israeli-Lebanese maritime border deal showed, involving private energy companies in harmony with official state actors can significantly contribute to conflict resolution and should be encouraged. Moreover, conflict resolution initiatives that seek to break new ground in the Mediterranean, should seek to be more inclusive in nature and involve a broader variety of sectors (e.g. the private sector and civil society) and societal actors (e.g. women and youth).
Those third parties that are seeking to support the resolution of energy-related conflicts in the Mediterranean can do more than mediate, they can initiate, enable and be partners in tripartite cooperative endeavors that will increase regional interdependencies and foster stability. Successful examples already exist: the Israel-Jordan-UAE electricity-water deal, the Morocco-Israel-EU water dialogue and the Egypt-EU-Israel agreement on energy export.
In such endeavors, a third party can provide added value, address an unmet need, put in place a viable economic framework for win-win arrangements, help overcome political obstacles, provide a safe space for engagement and serve as a consumer of energy resources. Such modalities should be encouraged, further advanced and replicated in additional countries.
The EU is probably the leading global actor with concrete plans and goals regarding sustainable energy and the environment. It has been repeatedly emphasizing the need for decarbonization and the promotion of more sustainable resources for energy production in parallel to its investment in advancing peace and stability in its neighborhood.
The EU should thus be encouraged to promote diplomatic channels based on renewable energy, with the goal of contributing to decreased tensions and fostering cooperation in the region. With its know-how and financial resources, the EU can be a central actor in assisting Mediterranean countries in overcoming energy-related differences, but it should do so in a manner that takes into account the real needs and concerns of the involved parties.
Dr. Nimrod Goren is co-founder of Diplomeds – The Council for Mediterranean Diplomacy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and the president of the Mitvim Institute. Camille Limon is Diplomeds’ coordinator and a consultant on Euro-Mediterranean cooperation; Prof. Ahmet Sozen is a professor of political science and international relations at the Eastern Mediterranean University in Northern Cyprus. The writers are the co-editors of Conflict Resolution in the Mediterranean: Energy as a Potential Game-Changer.