Organised online by Al Jazeera Centre for Studies in collaboration with Al Jazeera Mubasher, “Conflicts in the Eastern Mediterranean: Reasons and Prospects” concluded on Wednesday, 24 September 2020. It included a select group of researchers and experts from the Arab world, Turkey, Greece and other countries.
Panellists excluded the possibility that the current escalation in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean Seas regarding border disputes and gas and oil discovery will lead to total war between the disputing countries because they cannot afford the resulting economic and human losses, especially with the implications of the coronavirus pandemic.
Furthermore, the panellists expressed their hope for a peaceful settlement of the conflict despite their acknowledgement that it will be difficult given the absence of trust between the disputing parties, particularly Turkey on one hand and Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and France on the other.
They also clarified that Turkey will not yield to pressure from EU countries to approve of the maritime borders they offered it, and that it will maintain its “rough diplomacy” until it obtains what it considers its sovereignty rights. Panellists predicted an increase in this kind of diplomacy in the weeks preceding US elections in anticipation of the victory of the democratic candidate, Joe Biden, who declared his support for the party opposing Turkey in this conflict.
Speakers also pointed out that the conflict in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean, albeit in a limited geographic region, reflects a struggle for influence between active forces at the level of the entire Middle East, which explains the conflict’s geostrategic importance.
In addition, the speakers undermined the French role in the conflict due to the decline of France’s power at the international level since the collapse of the French empire. They attributed France’s involvement in the conflict to its desire to boost its arms sales and restore the presence of French diplomacy, even if it is inactive and is not backed or supported by an equivalent force, on the international stage.
The speakers explained that French strategy in the eastern Mediterranean is based on the principle of “balance from outside” in aims of avoiding direct involvement in a military venture against another NATO member state (i.e. Turkey), leaving the burden to allied countries in the region while still providing support proportionate to Turkey’s impulsivity. The French approach is centred on two pillars: maintaining the status quo (and preventing Turkey from changing it), and empowering regional actors that are allies.
The conference also shed light on the role of Israel in developments in the eastern Mediterranean and its endeavours to “steal” natural resources in occupied Palestinian and Lebanon, taking advantage of the latter’s preoccupation with its internal problems.
Conference participants also predicted cooperation between Russia, Turkey and maybe even China regarding the conflict in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. They based their prediction on the fact that Russia and Turkey are temporarily the biggest losers in the conflict whether due to the depreciation of Turkey’s rights to the economic resources in its waters or the marginalisation of Russia’s role as the greatest provider of energy to Europe. Thus, and according to the discussions that took place in the conference, Russian-Turkish relations are likely to grow in the upcoming period if the riparian countries of the Mediterranean, along with the European Union and the United States if Biden wins, insist on their current positions.
The speakers presented the historical dimension of the exacerbated conflict in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean in depth. While they acknowledge it as a factor that contributed to the endurance of the conflict, they still consider it “a contributing factor,” not the main factor. This is because the conflict is essentially a “real conflict over real existing resources” as opposed to a conflict over historical, religious or nationalistic factors.
The Palestinian right to resources in the eastern Mediterranean was addressed as well. In this regard, panellists spoke about Israel’s disregard of the Palestinian right to these resources and approach to them as though they belonged solely to Israel notwithstanding the fact that no solution has been reached for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The conference was held over two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, 22 and 23 September 2020. Its sessions were broadcast on Al Jazeera Mubasher and live-streamed on Al Jazeera Centre for Studies’ digital platforms. The participants were: Basheer Nafi, Senior Researcher at Al Jazeera Centre for Studies; Süha Çubukçuoğlu, Advisory Board Member at Koç University Maritime Forum; Kostas Ifantis, Professor of International Relations, University of Athens; Nicolas Sarkis, Lebanese energy expert; Hatem Ghandir, Head of the Economy Desk at Al Jazeera and energy expert; Steven Wright, Associate Professor at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Hamad bin Khalifa University; Hossam Matar, Professor of European Studies; Tarek Cherkaoui, Director of TRT World Research Centre; Haoues Taguia, Researcher at Al Jazeera Centre for Studies; Salah Salhi, Professor of Economic Sciences at the University Ferhat Abbas of Setif; Mamdouh Salameh, international oil economist and visiting professor of energy economics at the ESCP Europe Business School in London; Roudi Baroudi, Qatar-based international expert in energy affairs; and Ahmet Uysal, Director of the ORSAM Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
To watch the sessions, click the following links: