With Samuel Furfari

This is a Google translated version of the French original, of Jan. 8, 2020, republished with permission of the author. ©2020

Samuel Furfari

The start of the geopolitical year 2020 is worrying, and not only for the events in Iran / Iraq. The growing importance of Turkey’s role in the Near and Middle East should not leave one indifferent. What it is preparing in the Levant Sea is perhaps even more so, because this maritime region is rich in natural gas and already plays a major role in the geopolitics of energy. On December 31, gas from the Leviathan field off the coast of Israel began production. It will ramp up in the coming months and thus exceed the production of the other deposit – “Tamar” – which has produced since 2014. Israel, which was surrounded by oil-producing countries, suddenly saw its energy policy turned upside down; its coal-fired power plants will be replaced by gas-fired plants. In Egypt, since December 2017, the Zohr gas field has produced and brings enormous relief to the country’s energy supply. But this area is so rich in gas that it will obviously be necessary to export this sought-after energy because it does not pollute the atmosphere, gas being the future of energy and energy of the future.

This is why in 2013, the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, Didier Reynders, wanted to approach the question in an academic way so that this abundance was not a further source of conflict. Egmond, the Royal Institute for International Relations of Belgium thus organized a series of meetings to which I had the privilege of making my contribution. The resulting report addresses the various challenges and opportunities of energy cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean and Levantine region, in order to examine how the management of new energy resources could act as a vehicle for cooperation rather than conflict between the countries concerned.

This has produced positive results, since the countries most involved – Israel, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and also the Palestinian territories – have created an Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum in order to strengthen cooperation and promote exploitation natural gas reserves in the region. The next ministerial meeting of this Forum is planned for Cairo during the second half of January 2020; however there is no doubt that it will take place in a disturbing atmosphere because of the attitude of Turkey.

Indeed, it wants its share of the gas cake of the Levant Sea, from which it considers itself excluded by the application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 (Convention known as “de Montego Bay” ). This Convention grants coastal states the possibility of declaring an exclusive economic zone (EEZ). This amounts in practice to shifting the borders of a country on the high seas. It has thus made it possible to create a multitude of new borders which have changed the game in geopolitics of energy, since often these maritime territories conceal hydrocarbons. This is the case of the Levant Sea, which has become in a few years “a new Norway” in the south-east of the EU, because from this area will flow new gas supplies for the EU, which has elsewhere much needed.

But now, Turkey cannot tolerate not being part of this new gas group.

This is the reason why in December 2019 it announced that it had signed a maritime space sharing agreement with Libya. It is not the place here to enter into the legal specificities of the Convention but anyone who looks at a map of the area can see that between Turkey and Libya there is the island of Crete, some other Greek islands but also Cyprus. Maritime continuity between Turkey and Libya is therefore impossible. Unlike Greece, the EU, the United States, Russia, Egypt, Israel and even the government of eastern Libya of General Haftar, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his sudden ally Fayez el-Sarraj, the head of the Tripoli national agreement government, seem to be the only ones to think that there is a maritime continuity, within the meaning of the Convention on the law of the sea, between Turkey and Libya. The only link between these two countries is historical and discontinuous, Libya having been part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912.

The European Council of 12 December last, recalling its previous conclusions on Turkey, confirms that Turkish drilling activities in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus are illegal and that “the memorandum of understanding between Turkey and Libya on the delimitation of maritime jurisdictions in the Mediterranean Sea violates the sovereign rights of third States, is contrary to the law of the sea and cannot have legal consequences for third States. The European Council unequivocally reaffirms its solidarity with Greece and Cyprus with regard to these actions by Turkey. ”

This desire by Turkey to appropriate part of the natural gas from the Levant Sea explains its decision taken on January 2 to intervene militarily in Libya and the arrival on January 6 of the start of the deployment of its troops in Libya. This maneuver threatens to precipitate a broader crisis in the eastern Mediterranean which, in turn, could complicate Turkey’s relations with Moscow on the one hand, and with Washington and the main NATO allies on the other. The height is that Turkey has neither signed nor ratified the Convention it evokes to intervene militarily in Libya.

Although we do not want to agree with Emmanuel Macron who declares that NATO, of which Turkey is a member, is moribund, there is something to understand.

Samuele Furfari, engineer and Professor of the Geopolitics of Energy at the Free University of Brussels devoted all his professional life, still today, to energy and more precisely to energy policy. He recently retired as a senior European civil servant at the European Commission where he has worked in this field since 1982. He is an Advisor to the European Energy Forum (a body of Members of the European Parliament).
A good teacher, he is regularly invited to speak in the media.
He has published 7 books, some of which are translated into Spanish and Portuguese and English.


This is a comprehensive two part series on Energy and Geopolitics.