Sudden changes in the regional conjuncture lead to new alliances and position taking. States try to balance their deteriorating relations with new ones and somehow maintain regional cooperation. Within this context, rupture in Turkey-Israel relations contributes to the visibility of the axis between Israel, Greece and Southern Cyprus as a counterbalancing instrument. In line with recent intense intercourses, evaluation of the reasons and potential of this newly mentioned axis may give an idea about the strengthening of Turkey-Israel relations and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey’s practical/technical problems with Greece and Southern Cyprus exist for long years. There are open questions between Turkey and Greece about Cyprus and Aegean Sea and Southern Cyprus constitutes a problem itself. These are the reasons why both countries challenge Turkey in the regional balance. Especially rupture in Turkey-Israel relations triggered the engagement of Greece and Southern Cyprus. Davos walkout in 2009 and the following trend of deteriorating Turkey-Israel relations caused a new balancing system against Turkey. At this point, one of the reasons for this counterbalancing is frequently suggested as common threat perception. However, the assumption that Israel perceives Turkey as a direct threat is quite problematic.
The main factor which strengthens the relations of this new trio is the oil reservoirs first discovered in 2009 between Cyprus and Israel. The natural gas pie grew with the reservoirs discovered in 2010 and 2011. Israel and Southern Cyprus started to develop common projects since the reservoirs intersected the economic region exclusively added to Southern Cyprus. Several agreements including military cooperation agreements have been signed between Israel, Greece and Southern Cyprus since 2009. Issues such as the operation of mentioned reservoirs and safe transfer of natural gas from these reservoirs to the countries in the market gained importance and the relations were shaped in this direction. In addition to these, military cooperation was made in the name of ‘providing stability’ to Eastern Mediterranean and especially the concerns of Southern Cyprus were taken into consideration. Southern Cyprus administration was engaged in search for natural gas on the southern coasts of the island. This forced Turkey to be involved in the developments and a vessel called Barbaros was sent to the region for seismic exploration. Southern Cyprus administration perceived the presence of Barbaros as a “provocation” and felt the necessity to give military messages to Turkey. Therefore, the Southern Cyprus and Greece want to give a military dimension to the tripartite alliance.
A potential strengthening of Turkey-Israel relations that has come to the fore in the last months and gained momentum later may be an antithesis of the mentioned tripartite alliance. Therefore, the Minister of Defense of Greece, Kammenos made quite strident statements during the workshop held at the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies on 18 February 2016. He tried to consolidate anti-Turkey positions in Israel and ensure existing tripartite alliance by stating that Turkey chased Neo-Ottoman dreams, played the key role in destabilizing the region, adopted an anti-Israel attitude and supported the jihadists. Furthermore, Greek academicians were invited to another ‘academic’ conference held at the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies on 1 March 2016. Ideas were exchanged concerning Greece’s strategic role in the region and the stability of Eastern Mediterranean. The intensification of these academic-political intercourses refers primarily to the disturbance about the intimacy between Turkey and Israel. If the normalization trend continues in Turkey-Israel relations, there is no doubt that the cards will be reshuffled and the balances in the region will be revised.
*This translated essay was first appeared on ORSAM’s (Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies) website in Turkish.