A Strategic Vision for the Eastern Mediterranean
Colonel (res) Dr. Eran Lerman
The Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies
27 July, 2018
Within the last few years against the background of the so called Arab Spring – that is by the way a very absurd term given the extent of the bloodshed and destruction we have been witnessing – and against the background of the rise of very dangerous, very ambitious, very radical Turkish policies and actions, we have been seeing the emergence of new dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean. Already we are talking about a very close system of consultation and cooperation in the Israeli-Greek-Cypriot triangle. We are already looking at very similar patterns of cooperation and consultation in the Egyptian-Greek-Cypriot triangle, including series of trilateral summits. There has been already one trilateral summit of Jordan, Cyprus and Greece. So the two Hellenic nations are driving a policy that is leading to the emergence of what could be described as an alliance of likeminded forces in the Eastern Mediterranean. This has economic dimensions, specifically in the field of energy, given the discovery of major energy sources of gas and possibly even oil in the Eastern Mediterranean, in the EEZs of the three countries and of Egypt. So we are talking about four countries here. And, moreover, we are talking about great potential for economic and technological cooperation along very broad range of issues. Israel, for example, can bring to the table very impressive achievements in the field of water management, desalination, conservation, reuse, which, I think, is very relevant, particularly for the Greek islands, or Cyprus and, possibly in not too distant future, even for Egypt, when the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is fully erected and there is a change in the Nile water supply.
All of these are important elements, but there is also clearly a security dimension: exercises, agreements on cooperation, technological solutions to security challenges and a pattern of close cooperation and coordination, including trilateral meetings at the level of Ministries of Defense. So, we are looking at something which is new, dramatic, significant, and I assume that given the challenges that we all face in the Eastern Mediterranean are long-term challenges. Islamist radicalization, the bid by Iran to get a foothold on the Mediterranean coast, the existence of very radical Islamist groups like offshoots of Islamic State (ISIS) in Sinai. At some point there was a hold on the Mediterranean in Libya which was destroyed in battle, but the game is not over.
And, of course, the third challenge, side by side with Iran and ISIS, is the challenge of the Muslim Brotherhood supported by Turkish and Qatari policies. These are all long term persistent threats which require long-term persistent efforts to stop them, to turn them back, to defeat them, and to ensure stability and security for our respective nations.
One missing element is an anchor in the European system and I would have hoped to see Italy come in as a key player given their investment in Egyptian stability and given their involvement in the regional energy markets. And given the fact that Italy basically faces both sides of the Mediterranean, so if we are talking about the Eastern Mediterranean basin, it should be a very important anchor. The problem may be for the immediate and intermediate future that Italy has a serious problem putting its own political house in order. But having said so, I think we should look towards a future in which we can build a loose but effective consultative framework that I would think of in terms of 3+3: Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Israel and Egypt. And, of course, open to further accessions in the future, for example some Adriatic nations – the Adriatic is an adjunct of the Eastern Mediterranean basin that could find a place there. Certainly, Croatia markets itself as a Mediterranean as it used to be, and, of course, now when they have won some respect and glory in Russia, in soccer, they are entitled to be considered as part of this broader Eastern Mediterranean equation.
Albanian governments have resisted the temptation to be drawn into the Islamic or Islamist category and they could certainly find their place there. And of course this should be open to a different Turkish leadership if Turkey changes course. Right now that doesn’t look like a very likely proposition. Erdoğan has quite convincingly secured his powers for the foreseeable future.
The template can be borrowed from what already exists in the Western Mediterranean – in addition to the pan-Mediterranean organization umbrella, the UFM, the Union for the Mediterranean, Barcelona Process, which sits in Barcelona and provides, theoretically at least, framework for all Mediterranean countries and for all European countries to come together. There is also the 5+5 consultative structure, loose, without director, without a permanent establishment, but nevertheless an institutionally established framework that includes the five relevant European countries. One of them, Portugal, is an honorary Mediterranean – it is an entirely Atlantic country. But obviously being an Iberian nation it is part of the south-western arc of Europe. So it is Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Malta, all members of the EU, and five North African countries, countries of the Maghreb Arab Union. Again, Mauritania is a fully Atlantic nation but it is counted as part of the various Mediterranean dialogues, the NATO-Med and the Euro-Med. So it is Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya – to the extent that you can speak of Libya as a nation nowadays.
So, the parallel to the 5+5 could start as a 3+3 and then, possibly, be broadened. But what makes the 3+3 relevant is the fact that currently they are like-minded on all major issues. Italy used to be Turkey’s friend. It turned around under the impact of Erdoğan’s behavior in the Libyan crisis. It certainly has, despite the friction with Egypt over the Regeni case, at the end of the day it has a vested interests in the Egyptian stability. It has vested interest in putting an end to chaos in the eastern Mediterranean that could also have an impact on immigration. It certainly has a vested interest in curbing the spread of Islamist ambitions.
And so the six do already have a firm base in common. On energy, Italy has already joined Greece, Cyprus and Israel in planning for a possible integration of our energy capabilities in the Eastern Med. In terms of security cooperation, two of the important building blocks of such a cooperative system could also be the Israeli-Jordanian relationship which is almost overt – Israel even sold weapons to this Arab neighbor of ours. So you get this general sense that this is not a part of the Arab – Israeli conflict anymore. In fact, since 1970’s Israel and Jordan have been working pretty closely together against various challenges. Egypt clearly is part of what I would call the camp of stability in the region at large. The position that Sisi talked about in his famous speech on the 1st of January 2015 on the question of turning back the tide of Islamist totalitarian fantasies is a very important text for all of us.
So we are looking essentially at a group of like-minded nations with a common agenda and the obvious next step should be closer regional integration. Thank you.