The Eastern Mediterranean: New Dynamics and Potential for Cooperation

Policy Papers and Reports

New dynamics are taking place in the Eastern Mediterranean. Signs of increased political cooperation between different countries, new opportunities for economic cooperation due to natural gas finds, and common threats related to security and refugee flow all lead to the emergence of the Eastern Mediterranean as a new sub-region. This has been acknowledged by the Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, which stated in late 2015 that “the EU will support sub-regional cooperation as appropriate in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Maghreb and the Southern Caucasus.”

While the Arab Middle East is in turmoil and is capturing international attention mostly due to crises and instability, the Eastern Mediterranean sub-region is witnessing some positive diplomatic momentum. In recent years, this has included the reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey (although tensions between the countries remain); the tripartite summits between the leaders of Egypt, Cyprus and Greece; the coming to power of pro-peace Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot leaders; the forming of an alliance between Israel, Cyprus and Greece; and the increased security and economic ties between Israel and Egypt.

However, this positive momentum is challenged by a variety of geo-political factors, including the war in Syria and its consequences; the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian and Cyprus conflicts; the crisis between Turkey and Egypt; the Palestinian split and the situation in Gaza; the growing involvement of Russia in the sub-region; and mounting obstacles to the promotion of democracy, tolerance and human rights.

The numerous actors, factors and developments listed above created a complex ecosystem in the Eastern Mediterranean. Navigating the sub-region towards a win-win, rather than a zero-sum, reality requires relevant stakeholders to gain more knowledge, better understand regional dynamics, identify opportunities for cooperation, overcome conflicts and contradictory interests, and practise skilled and inclusive diplomacy.

This Joint Policy Study on “The Eastern Mediterranean: New Dynamics and Opportunities for Cooperation”, led by the Mitvim Institute in the framework of the EuroMeSCo project, aims to contribute to these needs, and to conflict resolution and enhanced cooperation in the sub-region. It includes three chapters that were written by leading experts from Greece, Israel and Germany, following consultations with colleagues from additional countries in Europe, the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The first chapter, by Dr. Thanos Dokos and Prof. Panayotis Tsakonas, focuses on promoting collective security schemes in the Eastern Mediterranean. The chapter provides a definition of the Eastern Mediterranean and presents its evolution as a distinct sub-region. It argues that in order for the Eastern Mediterranean to evolve into a successful sub-region, rather than a failed one, a limited security regime should be established there – namely a cooperative and stable security architecture that will centre, at least in the beginning, on two particular issue areas: energy security and Jihadist terrorism. The chapter claims that it is upon these areas that the interests of the various states in the Eastern Mediterranean sub-region are expected to converge.

The second chapter, by Gabriel Mitchell and Dr. Ehud Eiran, focuses on regional effects of the natural gas finds in the Eastern Mediterranean. It reviews specific gas discoveries in the region since the late 1990s, looks at their effect on regional security and on environmental policies, analyses international boundary demarcation in the region, and examines the roles of external actors – the US, EU and Russia. The chapter claims that the discoveries have yet to become a game-changing driving force of regional integration, reconciliation and closer relations with Europe, and that in some cases they even created new regional tensions. Despite this state of affairs, the chapter emphasises those areas that show potential for regional cooperation and the instances where this potential has already materialised.

The third chapter, by Dr. Muriel Asseburg, focuses on the war in Syria and its effect on Eastern Mediterranean dynamics. It analyses the interests of key Eastern Mediterranean actors regarding Syria, and how these interests converge or diverge with those of other involved actors. The chapter claims that Eastern Mediterranean actors developed fundamentally opposing interests, often considered vital, which do not cater for constructive sub-regional dynamics or closer sub-regional collaboration. At the same time, it shows how these interests – and in particular their divergence from other crucial actors’ interests – are detrimental to achieving sustained stabilisation in Syria. The chapter also provides recommendations for the EU on how it can support constructive dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean and prevent military spill-over of the war in Syria.

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