The recently signed energy deal between Turkey and Libya’s Government of National Unity (GNU) could fuel tensions and may lead to an open conflict between Ankara and Athens, according to the Politico newspaper.
The agreement comes at an especially febrile time, compounded by the fact that Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus will hold elections next year. This throws the risks of heightened voter patriotism into the east Mediterranean geopolitical mix over 2023.
Turkey signed an agreement on 3 October to explore for oil and gas off the Libyan coast, without specifying whether the surveys would take place in waters south of Greece.
Greece’s Foreign Minister, Nikos Dendias accused Turkey of exploiting “the turbulent situation in Libya to further destabilize security in the Mediterranean region, and establish a regional hegemony.”
Last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned that his forces could “come down suddenly one night.” Interpreting this as a direct threat to Greek islands, Dendias warned allies that they would need to crack down on Ankara or risk another Ukraine crisis.
“People underestimate the potential for conflict, and there is a feeling among the U.S. and the EU that we have seen this movie before, and nothing really changes; I don’t know if that’s the case any longer,” a professor in the department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in California, Ryan Gingeras told Politico.
“This doesn’t mean that war is imminent or likely,” but noted that “military confrontation is now more probable,” Gingeras said
Athens was caught off guard in November 2019, when Ankara announced it had signed a deal — to demarcate new maritime boundaries. The proposed line in this accord between Libya and Turkey runs close to the Greek island of Crete.
Turkish Ambassador to Athens, Burak Özügergin told Politico “that it would be anything but perfect if the tension goes above a certain level. We really need to be vigilant, because things can get out of control very quickly,” he added.
Turkey has threatened Greece with military action should it exercise its rights under the UN’s Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles in the Aegean. As much of its coast would be deprived of access to the sea.