The Middle East crisis, Cyprus and Israel
What is happening in the Middle East, and in particular in Iraq and Syria, is the result of the ‘Arab Spring’. In its development, the ‘Arab Spring’ weakened the state and offered the opportunity to radical Islamic groups to get organised and become non-state factors in the Middle-eastern scene and beyond. This is confirmed by the action taken by groups like the Hamas, Hezbollah, Jubhat Al-Nousta, Islamic Jihad and especially the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS emerged in 2004 in Iraq, following the chaos of invasion and the mistakes of the Shiite leadership which came to power and operates in Syria as well since 2013. Its success is due to its cohesiveness and strong command, as well as the support it enjoys among the Sunni population.
These new realities have brought to the fore new players and interests. First and foremost, Iran has become a major player for many reasons. It is considered a factor of stability in the wider region if we take into account what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. Willing to strengthen its Shiite allies in Iraq against the jihadist, Iran has found itself on the same side with Turkey and the U.S. Although Turkey sided with Iran against ISIS, in the Syrian civil war they supported opposite sides.
The United States, considering developments in Iraq as a great national security threat, eventually decided to take action with their air force, forming an alliance of forty countries. In this respect, positive development should be considered the fact that there is now a government of national unity in Baghdad and that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are participating in the anti-ISIS bloc. On the other hand, the possibility of a closer co-operation between U.S. and Iran, as it was left to be understood by President Rohani and statements by Foreign Minister Kerry, provoked the reaction of Israel and the Gulf states, whereas a more resilient stand on the question of Iran’s nuclear programme is opposed by Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Within Iraq, the Kurds emerged as the only power capable of resisting the advance of ISIS and the fight put up by the Peshmerga (Kurdish militias) allowed the recapturing of Kurdish lands taken by Saddam Hussein between 1960 and the late 80’s.
Coming now to Turkey, which shares 900 kilometres of frontiers with Syria and Iraq, the fighting in Kobani is creating problems and dilemmas. Hesitating for some days, eventually after pressure from her western allies, Ankara decided to participate in the anti-ISIS block under conditions (creation of security zone, ousting of Assad, etc.) which were not accepted. Helping the Kurds of Kobani and arming them, she is afraid that in the future they may turn against her. On the other hand, Turkey’s passive stand generated the revolt of the Kurds in Turkey and their demonstrations which left many dead and injured.
The Kurdish problem is a very serious problem for Turkey which has to be resolved, and under the present circumstances she might be obliged to close her borders with Syria.
Taking advantage of the crisis in the region, Turkey took the unilateral action to send warships, where ENI/Kogas started exploratory drilling and to state her intention to carry out seismic studies in Cyprus’s southern exclusive economic zone (EEZ), thus violating every norm of international law. This action gives another dimension to the crisis which is of interest to Cyprus and the countries of the eastern Mediterranean. The discovery of hydrocarbons in our region drew immediately the attention of the United States. Taking into account the excellent relations between Cyprus, Israel and Greece and the possibility for Europe not to rely heavily on Russian gas, the US recognised the sovereign rights of Cyprus in its EEZ and characterised the Republic of Cyprus as a “strategic partner”. These developments fully justify the decision of Cyprus to politically invest in Israel.
High level visits and the signing of a plethora of bilateral agreements which have created the framework for substantial cooperation in all fields, and in particular that of energy, not only strengthened, but also deepened our relations with Israel, the only non-Muslim country in the region. However, our excellent relations with Israel are not to the detriment of our relations with the other Arab countries.
his is the case with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and even Saudi Arabia, which recently decided to accredit a non-resident Ambassador to Cyprus.
Concluding, instability in the region underlines the positive role Cyprus can play towards peace and stability in the troubled region of the eastern Mediterranean, safeguarding at the same time the energy security of Europe, which is endangered by Turkey’s actions.