Politics and energy have the lion’s share. The reaction of Turkey to the strengthening of the ‘democratic bloc’ outlines the solid foundations of the latter. The Turkish government takes counter-measures which, inter alia, ignore customary international laws of the sea. This is the case for the MoU signed between Ankara and Tripoli demarcating maritime zones. While Greece and Cyprus take the lead in exposing the illegal, unhelpful and escalatory nature of this agreement, Israel almost immediately expressed its full support and solidarity.
According to Foreign Minister Israel Katz his country’s official position on the Turkish-Libyan maritime deal does not mean it would send ‘battleships to confront Turkey’. But Jerusalem is gradually taking some clear messages about Ankara’s determination to employ a muscular approach to protect its interests in specific maritime zones of the Mediterranean which it believes belong to its own continental shelf. A few weeks ago, for instance, the Turkish navy deported an Israeli research ship from Cypriot waters. This might constitute a precedent for Turkish future actions in areas covered by the aforementioned MoU with Libya.
The Turkish government counts on the UN-backed government of Libya under Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. It is sending military troops to the war-torn country and forges an alliance with Tunisia and Algeria in its support. President Tayyip Erdogan is playing this card realizing that Israel, Greece and Cyprus are not alone but find additional regional sympathizers such as Egypt. Cairo plays a key role in the recently announced Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, where Turkey has not yet participated, and favors General Khalifa Haftar – the opponent of al-Sarraj – in the Libyan civil war. Although the conflict in Libya is internationalized and goes beyond regional stakes, the establishment of a foothold by Turkey will certainly empower its position.Israel, Greece and Cyprus work hard to obtain practical US support for their cause. Since the end of 2018, Washington has openly welcomed this tripartite format of collaboration. And now, the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019, already signed by President Donald Trump, enables it to substantially boost the trilateral scheme through energy and defense cooperation initiatives.
Among others, the Act authorizes financial assistance for an International Military Education and Training (IMET) program for Cyprus for the first time. Cyprus significantly matters for Israel to complete training beyond its borders. At the beginning of December, the country hosted an international commando and IAF ‘Game of Thrones’ exercise. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi visited the exercise area.The ‘democratic bloc’ needs to think creatively and to set the agenda for the future. Initiatives such as the Israel-Hellenic Forum, launched by B’nai B’rith International in Jerusalem last November, will contribute to brainstorming and facilitate the work of political elites. When there is a will, there is a way.Greece and Cyprus are gaining a true friend. Israel is similarly appreciating the sincere friendship. Athens and Nicosia share Jerusalem’s security sensitivities and are able to disseminate them at the European level. The effort needs to be reinforced in 2020. British media reports that Hamas plots attacks on Israel from Turkey cannot any longer be ignored by Europe.
This attempt has to be complemented by the continuous fight against antisemitism. The region of Northern Greece, including Thrace, which underwent the terrible experience of the Holocaust that almost eliminated what was at one time a thriving Jewish community, does not forget. Alexandroupolis has its new Holocaust Memorial. The responsibility to raise awareness is both collective and personal.