Fuel on the fire: militarization and fossil fuel interests in the Mediterranean
“We knew that this decision has been announced in light of heightened tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, but we thought it was the right thing and so I made the decision to move forward with it”, told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at a press conference last September, on the decision to lift the 1987 US arms embargo on Cyprus.
The decision is an implementation of a major legislation1 that passed in December 2019 in the U.S. Congress and Senate. The law assures U.S. assistance in developing fossil gas resources off the coasts of Israel and Cyprus, constructing infrastructure for export such as pipelines and liquified gas terminals, establishing a U.S-Eastern Mediterranean Energy Center in the region that will run by the U.S Department of Energy, and lifting the arms embargo combined with providing military support for Cyprus and Greece.
Results are already being seen in the region. Last August2, a Turkish survey ship, accompanied by warships, was sent to search for fossil gas resources in the waters between Turkey and Greece – an area which both countries see as their economic waters. This is how two warships, Turkish and Greek, collided3. The event was seen as an accident from the Greek side but considered a provocation from the Turkish point of view. France didn't wait very long, and shortly after the incident deployed its warships and jet fighters to support the Greek forces, which caused tensions to rise again in the region. The absurd part about it is that in the centre of this conflict stands fossil gas – an expendable and polluting source of energy that is already losing its value4 and will continue in this trend due to the global struggle in fighting the climate crisis. After all, in order to succeed in this struggle, and stopping global warming from passing the 1.5-degree target, most fossil fuels must be kept in the ground5.
Pompeo's statement is as simple as it is tragic: The world's biggest powers, the fossil fuel companies, and the arms manufacturers, see the Middle East as a playground. Resources that can be exploited, conflicts that can be ignited and benefited from. There is no culture, no history, and especially there are no people. And that is how major political powers such as the European Union and The US are promoting plans that serve their own interest in gaining more power in our region, while completely ignoring the fact that their actions have implications on the lives of the people who live here.
Like the Eastmed pipeline: The longest and deepest pipeline in the world planned to export gas from Israel, via Cyprus, Greece and Italy, to the rest of Europe. Its planned part between Israel to Greece is expected to be 1,900 km long on6 land and in the sea, and 3km deep. It will pass through the Mediterranean Sea, which is considered a biodiversity hotspot7, in sensitive ecological areas including risk areas for earthquakes. Moreover, the pipeline will pass through maritime conflict areas between Cyprus, Greece and Turkey – the same which the collision happened in last August.
The pipeline will cost approximately €6 billion8 and is planned to start running by 2025. Where is the money coming from? So far, mainly from the EU, which is promoting the pipeline under the argument of 'diversification of energy sources', in order to break free from the dependency on Russian gas. Up until this point, the EU has invested approximately €36 million in the Eastmed pipeline for feasibility tests9 and a development phase10, according to the information that has been published publicly. The EU Commission approved the Eastmed as part of the list of Projects of Common Interest (PCI11), alongside 54 other fossil fuel projects across Europe and beyond its borders.
By doing this, the EU is allowing the possibility for the pipeline to be financed by public funding. This, despite the fact that Europe does not need more gas12 and is presenting itself as a leader in the fight against the climate crisis while promoting a green deal plan to get to net zero by 2050. Establishing the Eastmed pipeline is a complete contradiction to these declarations and will have devastating implications on the fight in stopping global warming. Based on projections, if the pipeline were to run in its full capacity, not only will it supply more gas than what Europe actually needs, during the course of one year the Eastmed would emit more CO2 and Methane than the biggest coal factory in Europe13.
The hypocrisy in this story deepens when one considers the EU's human rights and democracy policy. According to the EU's official site "The European Union is based on a strong commitment to promoting and protecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law worldwide. Human rights are at the heart of EU relations with other countries and regions". The EU enjoys portraying itself as a leader and protector of human rights and marginalized communities, and claims that "Human rights are universal, every human being is entitled to the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms under international law". However, supporting the Eastmed pipeline, empties these words from their meaning completely. The pipeline ties a dependency between Europe and Israel, and thus allows the Israeli regime to gain more political capital and power at the international level, while legitimizing that regime and its actions – including the occupation and annexation of Palestinian lands.
While officially the EU keeps claiming they are concerned for international law and human rights and that the violation of these, including by Israel, will bear a price in the ability to cooperate with the union, when it comes to economic interests, these values dissipate. The pipeline, like other large cooperation projects with Israel, helps thicken the cloud of fog that hides the violations of international laws in the occupied Palestinian territories by the state of Israel, including extracting natural resources that belong to the Palestinian people for the use of Israel – one more environmental disaster supported by the EU14.
Among the countries on the route of the pipeline who are taking an active role in pushing it, the Israeli government stands out in its intensive efforts. During COVID-19, while the country is under periodic lockdown suffering the worst economic and health crisis in years with a million people unemployed, domestic violence rates rising, and the health and welfare systems collapsing, the minister of energy and the prime minister of Israel organized ongoing meetings to keep promoting the Eastmed pipeline with the Greek15, Cypriot16 and U.S. government17. Israel is trying to sell this pipeline as a geopolitical, economic and social opportunity for us all. But the truth is, this opportunity has a price tag we will all pay and are already paying.
This pipeline does not even exist, but is already fuelling militarism in the region, deepening conflicts between Turkey to Cyprus and Greece, and normalizing the Israeli occupation in the eyes of Europe. Equally severe, the pipeline will lock us in to fossil fuels and will be a huge barrier to the fight to stop the climate crisis in the Middle East, which already today is warming faster than other parts of the world18. But it is not too late.
We, the people, have the power and the responsibility to resist.
Resist to establishing the Eastmed pipeline, putting pressure and disrupting business as usual until governments will have to withdraw from promoting it.
Resist the climate and ecological disaster while demanding a just transition to renewable energy.
We have the power and responsibly to stop the militarization of our region, and not to allow more instigation of wars and the incitement between the people who live in the region against each other, for money.
We have power to demand life before profit, and promote peace, justice and equality for all.