Watching The World: Turkey overplays its hand

Sept. 26, 2011
Turkey's government has made repeated efforts to establish itself as an oil and gas transit hub between Europe and Central Asia.

Turkey's government has made repeated efforts to establish itself as an oil and gas transit hub between Europe and Central Asia. But those efforts will come to naught if Ankara is not careful.

The main sticking point is Turkey's unwillingness to move beyond its 1974 invasion of the island of Cyprus, an invasion that has left the country divided into a Greek-speaking south and a Turkish-speaking north ever since.

That unwillingness to move with history means that Turkey has become a belligerent nation when it comes to anything in connection with the Greek-speaking southern two-thirds of the island nation.

That belligerence became especially obnoxious last week when Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz threatened the use of warships in the region if the Cypriot government chose to continue with its plans for offshore drilling.

Warship escorts

To underline his country's position, Yildiz threatened that his country might begin its own exploratory efforts off the Mediterranean island, even using naval vessels to escort seismic ships into the area.

"We can say that Turkish naval ships may escort Turkish seismic survey ships doing exploration in the Mediterranean Sea. Oil exploration platforms would follow but we don't want it to come to that," Yildiz said.

Saber-rattling is the last thing needed in the East Mediterranean right now, especially as Israel has come under similar threats from Lebanon and Iran regarding its efforts to recover oil and gas in its own offshore.

Turkey started accession negotiations with the EU in 2005 but its aspirations have foundered on its continued intransigence over Cyprus, in particular its unwillingness to recognize the legitimate rule of the island's government.

Stubborn insistence

Instead, Ankara has stubbornly insisted on denying the Greek-speaking south any rights at all, preferring to believe that the Turkish-speaking north is due its only consideration.

Turkey has even gone so far as to say it will freeze relations with the EU if the Republic of Cyprus is given the presidency of the bloc in the second half of 2012. Imagine how well that will go down in Brussels when it comes time to vote on Turkey's chance for membership.

As it now stands, the EU has been considering Turkey as a relatively reliable partner in the oil and gas industry, even down to agreeing with the idea of using the country as a transit link in the transport of gas from Central Asia and the Caspian Sea.

But Europe had better think twice. A Turkish government that threatens to use warships against an EU member state hardly looks like a reliable partner for the transport of natural gas that Europe will need for its future survival.

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