Volume 6, Issue 5—November-December 2014
AHI President’s Note: The American Hellenic Institute presents AHI’s Capital Report which is a timely synopsis of recent policy discussions in Washington to help keep you abreast of the latest developments. As a service to our membership and constituency, and to gain an understanding of the position of other entities on our issues, the American Hellenic Institute attends and participates at policy forums or roundtable discussions to ensure the policy positions of the Greek-American community are represented.
The content provided in AHI’s Capital Report is for informational purposes only, and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of AHI.
Evolving Energy Trends in the Eastern Mediterranean
On November 3, AHI attended a CSIS Statesmen's Forum, featuring Prof. Yannis Maniatis, the Greek Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate Change, who spoke on the shifting energy dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean and Europe.
Maniatis began by saying that Greece is an anchor of stability for the energy market. As an EU and NATO member, Greece can further its position of geopolitical importance by signing a trilateral agreement on the environment with Cyprus and Israel and memorandum of understanding on mutual EEZ exploration, he said. Greece is also promoting a new submarine cable to link Israeli, Cypriot, and Greek power grids. Maniatis noted that the increased Cypriot-Israel-Greece cooperation serves as a model for dialogue in the region. Meanwhile, the EU is the world’s largest energy importer, he said, but the newest developments in Ukraine, Russia, and the Middle East pose extreme vulnerabilities. However, Greece is the first EU state to import Azeri gas.
Maniatis later explained the four major challenges to Greece’s energy sector: diversify sources/routes, develop an integrated internal market, advance to a lower carbon and more energy-efficient economy, and increase domestic production. Additionally, Maniatis said that Greece is the EU’s gateway to Southeastern Europe and is very committed to supporting the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project, which will transport natural gas crossing Northern Greece, Albania, and the Adriatic Sea to Italy and offer a direct and inexpensive transportation route for Europe. The recently announced TAP project (expected to begin in 2016 and end in 2018) will bring critical energy diversity and security to Europe, introduce major investment opportunities for the region, and create additional energy growth for Europe.
Maniatis also discussed the Revithoussa LNG terminal. One of 14 delivery and gasification stations of liquefied natural gas in Europe and the only one in the EU Balkan area, the Revithoussa has maintained a steady and competitive operation of the Natural Gas System. Since 2007, the rising LNG demand has led to the search for diversified supply sources. Its strategic role was further strengthened in 2009, enabling it to triple its quantities of liquefied gas. Over 386 loads of liquefied natural gas have been delivered in its 13 years of operation and major plans are being implemented to improve the capacity of the facilities.
Additionally, Maniatis noted that Greece’s corporate tax has fallen from 40 to 20 percent. Maniatis also gave reasons to invest in Greece: the country has a strong hydrocarbon potential, known hydrocarbon systems, and hydrocarbon discoveries in the region, he said. Additionally, Greece has a transparent and competitive new legal framework along with incentives through tax reductions. In the latter part of his presentation, Maniatis discussed the potential for an energy chapter in the TTIP negotiations between the EU and the U.S. The energy issue will be completed quickly but the commercial one will take more time to resolve, he said.
In the Q&A session, AHI asked whether Greece can fulfill its energy obligations without branching into the Aegean. “Greece has much work to do in a mature area where we are sure to find supplies and draw investors,” Maniatis said. “We will explore each square kilometer where the Greek state exerts sovereign rights on a concrete timetable and at a rate that is manageable for us.”
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Turmoil in the Eastern Mediterranean: A View from America’s Allies
AHI attended an event on Eastern Mediterranean tensions at the Hudson Institute on November 13. The presentation featured Professor Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, who spoke on the changing power dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and Libya make for a very diverse southeastern Mediterranean region. Inbar said that the U.S. naval presence in this region has declined, especially after it mishandled the “Arab Spring” and left a failed state in Libya. Meanwhile, the U.S. is pushing Egypt into the hands of Russians as they discuss future arms deals, he said. He added that the growing Islamist presence in the Eastern Mediterranean is seen in the anarchic Islamist activity in the Suez Canal, for instance. However, the local population supports the Islamists because they deliver services to the people, he noted.
Inbar then said that Europe lacks the strategic capabilities to play a role in this region, which results in a political vacuum and the disintegration of several trilateral alliances. The souring relations (due to Erdogan’s distancing himself from the West) between Turkey and Israel has weakened the previously strong axis between the U.S., Turkey, and Israel. Additionally, the U.S.-Egypt-Israel alliance continues to deteriorate.
Inbar then analyzed the strategic implications of increased Russian presence. While Russia supports Assad and indirectly supports Iran, Russia has good relations with Cyprus and has gained access to a Cyprian port, he said. Russia is very interested in the gas findings in the Eastern Mediterranean and being an energy corridor. Inbar said there is greater Turkish assertiveness in the region, as they are investing money to modernize their military and naval forces. The Turks will fight, particularly against Greeks, Inbar said. He added, the Turks may provoke Israel and also get involved in the Aegean islands, while the old Ottoman-Russian rivalry will not disappear.
Inbar later discussed the new entente emerging between Greece, Cyprus, and Israel, as seen by many high level visits and economic/military cooperation. These three countries have mutual interests, including restricting Turkey’s autocratic and Islamist influence in Cyprus or the Balkans. Israel and Greece are forming a security partnership and seek to become better integrated in NATO. Inbar also mentioned the growing terrorist movements in the Middle East due to the deteriorating state structure in the Mediterranean and greater access to weapons.
In regards to what sorts of missions the West should consider for naval expansion in the Eastern Mediterranean, Inbar said a mere presence (such as a U.S. flag) will carry weight, instead of political engineering. Because of Erdogan, a U.S.-Israel-Turkey entente will not reemerge, he said. Inbar also mentioned that Turkey is buying oil from the Islamic State on the black market. Seth Cropsey, Director of the Center for American Seapower, added that planned missions in the Eastern Mediterranean include use of an aircraft carrier to allow the U.S. to project air power throughout the region. This would have meant that Americans would not have needed to rely on Greek ferries to evacuate Libya, for instance. The escort ships would be very useful in protecting sovereignty claims in the EEZ challenged in Cyprus and Israeli waters, he added.
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Conference on Critical Issues in the Eastern Mediterranean
AHI attended the Conference on Critical Issues in the Eastern Mediterranean hosted by The John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies on November 17. The four panels addressed major issues that affect the U.S., Greece, and Israel, including regional security, distribution of energy resources, and the fallout from the Syrian conflict.
The panelists assessed regional instability, politics of energy, as well as security arrangements and responses. The roundtable discussion on the Eastern Mediterranean in transition featured panelists Dr. Thomas Keaney (Associate Director of Strategic Studies), Ambassador Eric Edelman, Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror from the BESA Center, Dr. Aristotle Tziampiris from the University of Piraeus, and Dr. Michael Leigh from the German Marshall Fund.
Ambassador Edelman started off by saying he finds it useful that the U.S. maintains military assets in the region. The international system creates vacuums that need to be filled, he added. He also said there is a clear power shift in the region involving state and non-state actors. Additionally, new alliances and rivalries are emerging. For instance, Turkey and Egypt were aligned less than three years ago under Egypt’s former Muslim Brotherhood President but are now rivals. Edelman also said that energy will not be able to solve any conflicts (i.e. Cyprus). These gas platforms will become tempting targets for terrorists in the future, he said.
Dr. Tziampiris discussed a theoretic point: regions are becoming more important, especially by the terms of classification and being viewed as distinct actors. He also made the following point about Greece: in the last 2-3 years, the agreements, joint military exercises and tourism initiatives that have taken place between Greece and Israel have increased. There is no “alliance,” he said, and there are limits, but steps taken so far have been very important.
Maj. Gen Amidror later said that the next generation will be faced with increased destabilization in the Eastern Mediterranean. Israel’s most dangerous threat will be Iran’s nuclear capability. Edelman added his thoughts stating that he foresees more ungoverned states and fragmented entities in the future of the Middle East.
Sir Michael Leigh later added that energy discoveries will not resolve everything in Cyprus. Several years will go by till the gas reserves discovered off the coast of Cyprus will be used or sold, he said.
Lastly, the panelists discussed Egypt’s role in the new Greece-Cyprus-Israel triangle. Tziampiris said that perhaps the current Egyptian President Sisi sees the potential for his interests to have a platform within the EU vis-a-vis Cyprus and Greece. Edelman said that Turkey is currently investing a lot of money into their navy because they worry about being encircled by the new Greece-Israel-Cyprus partnership and because the Navy is the branch of the Turkish military least likely to stage a coup against Erdogan.
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Turkey’s Foreign Policy Dilemmas in 2015
AHI attended a panel on Turkey’s Foreign Policy Dilemmas in 2015 at The Institute of World Politics and hosted by the Political Developments Research Center of Armenia on December 3. The panel delved into Turkey’s foreign policy agenda for the next year, specifically the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the Kurdish Question and its implications in the region, and Turkey-Cyprus relations. Panelists included Haykaram Nahapetyan, journalist and researcher at the Public TV Company of Armenia to the U.S., Mehmet Yuksel, representative of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and Endy Zemenides, Executive Director of Hellenic American Leadership Council.
Nahapetyan gave his presentation on the delayed normalization of Turkey-Armenia relations. In 2005, Erdogan sent a letter to Armenia’s president asking that they jointly study their shared history and form a “joint commission” to do this. Turkey was in fact not ready to discuss the topic of genocide, Nahapetyan said. He mentioned that a mass grave containing bodies of Armenians and Assyrians was discovered in 2006 in Mardin, Turkey. However, when archeological teams returned to further analyze the results, all skeletal remains had been removed.
Following Nahapetyan’s presentation, Mr. Yuksel touched on Turkey-Cyprus relations and Turkish policy towards the Kurds, Iraq, and Syria. He said that the situation has changed as AKP-Kurdish relations improved during the 2009-2010 period, and relations have been worsening since then. The Muslim Sunni world was always one which appealed to the AKP administration, Yuksel said. The AKP government mentality is that they will not take conclusive steps when it comes to Cyprus, the Kurds, or Armenia. If democratization within Turkey continues to be threatened by the way that the AKP leads the country, Yuksel said, no concrete steps will be taken.
Zemenides later spoke on the energy of politics and the politics of energy. In his presentation, Zemenides outlined the history regarding Cyprus: “We can see where it is on the map; we all know the importance of the Mediterranean. We ‘won’ it during the Cold War and since then we can see it falling apart.” Amidst ever-growing threats of piracy, insurgency, terrorism, and never-ending Arab Spring, Cyprus is the bright spot, Zemenides said.
In the question-and-answer session of the panel, Yuksel was asked whether he thinks Turkey will be prompted to attack the ISIL forces operating militarily within Turkey and attacking Kobani. Yuksel responded saying that nothing is being done apart from Turkey denying that it is happening.
Nahapetyan was then asked to address the absence of WWI commemorations in Turkey. He said that Erdogan released a letter last April equating the deaths of Armenians during the Armenian genocide with deaths of Turks during that time (this is like equating the deaths of the Jews in the Holocaust with the deaths of Germans during WWII, Nahapetyan said). The intellectuals of Turkey and the Kurds have been more active in reaching out and educating their public about the Armenian Genocide.
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The Impact of Oil and Gas Discoveries on Israel’s Geopolitical Future
On December 10, AHI attended a conference on the impact of oil and gas discoveries on the geopolitical future of Israel. The event was sponsored by the Washington Times Foundation and speakers included George Papadopoulos, Hudson Institute; Itai Bar-Dov, Counselor for Political Affairs, Embassy of Israel; Nick Welch, Director of International Relations for Noble Energy; and Col. Bill Cowan, retired USMC Lt. Col. and Fox News commentator. Former Congressman Dan Burton moderated the discussion.
In light of recent natural gas discoveries in Cypriot waters, Turkish and Russian challenges regionally, Egypt’s stated desire to purchase Israeli and Cypriot gas, and the emergence of a deepening Cypriot-Greek-Israeli partnership, the southeast Mediterranean is becoming increasingly more important.
George Papadopoulos began the discussion by stating that in order for there to be stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, the US will need to begin playing a more active role. The security infrastructure as we know it has crumbled in recent years and several new emerging relationships are changing the status quo. For example, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Egypt are now finding new ways to work together. Even the United States is looking for alternative partnerships in the region, especially because of Turkey’s lack of cooperation both regionally and in the fight against ISIS.
Furthermore, Papadopoulos discussed the increasing naval cooperation between the United States and Greece, Cyprus and Israel. Since 2011, the US has conducted an annual two week exercise known as “Noble Dina.” Cyprus was invited to participate in a segment of the 2014 Noble Dina and additional special training operations have also begun taking place in Crete. In the meantime, Turkey’s relationships in the southeast Mediterranean have become more complicated, Papadopoulos explained, especially with regards to Israel and Cyprus. In this context, Papadopoulos explained how the hunt for hydrocarbons has become all the more significant.
Itai Bar-Dov spoke on gas and energy from the Israeli perspective. The collaboration between Cyprus, Israel and Greece could help minimize dependency on Russian gas in the future. Bar-Dov also addressed Israel’s relationship with Turkey. Politically, relations between the two countries are at the “lowest” they have ever been although trade-wise, nothing between the two has changed. Israel is looking forward to exploring new trilateral partnerships with Cyprus and Egypt and, potentially, with Greece as well.
Nick Welch, of Noble Energy, provided some background and information on the company and its international endeavors. Noble has five areas in the world that it refers to as “core areas”: three in the United States, one in the Eastern Mediterranean and one in West Africa. Noble began working in Israel in 1998. The Tamar and Leviathan fields cover 50% of Israel’s energy needs; Tamar could potentially provide energy to Israel for the next twenty-five years. Currently, Welch said, a consortium of private companies in Egypt have been in conversation with Noble regarding energy shortages and the possibility of resolving them in future collaborations or with potential gas pipelines.
Col. Bill Cowan spoke about the void in the region left by the retreat of the United States and what could potentially fill this vacuum. China, for example, has been conducting more naval exercises in the region and Russia is eager to fill the void as well. America, in Cowan’s opinion, made a mistake by the multiple ways in which it retreated from the region. ISIS, for instance, would not have risen to power so forcefully had the United States kept the structure of its military intelligence intact in Iraq.
As far as Turkey is concerned, Cowan asked attendees to consider whether Turkey can be considered a friend or foe. In the fight against ISIS, Turkey has proven that its main objective is the removal of Assad, no matter the alternative. Cowan reminds attendees that Turkey facilitated ISIS’ rise to power by allowing the group to cross the Turkish/Syrian borer freely and use Turkish territory as a safe haven as well.
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AHI meets with Obama Administration Officials
Following-up on an October 24 letter sent to Vice President Joe Biden about Turkey’s provocations in the eastern Mediterranean, AHI met with Dr. Michael Carpenter, special advisor for Europe and Eurasia, Office of the Vice President and William Tuttle, director for Turkish, Greek and Cypriot Affairs, National Security Council, at the White House, November 4.
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AHI Capital Report, Vol. 6 Issue 5