Turkey at loggerheads with EU over east Mediterranean 

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, French President Emmanuel Macron, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, wearing face masks, speak with each other on the second day of an EU summit, in Brussels, Belgium October 16, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 October 2020

Turkey at loggerheads with EU over east Mediterranean 

  • Turkey’s decision to resend its vessel, Oruc Reis, to contested waters off Greek islands to resume gas exploration has infuriated the EU
  • It has been given a week to reconsider its position and to return to dialogue before the EU decides on potential sanctions

ANKARA: Turkey’s confrontation with Greece in the east Mediterranean has intensified, following accusations from powerful EU member states that Ankara was “provoking” Brussels with its acts.

Its decision to resend its vessel, Oruc Reis, to contested waters off Greek islands to resume gas exploration has infuriated the EU, and the bloc’s leaders discussed the crisis on Friday.

“The European Council urges Turkey to reverse these actions and work for the easing of tensions in a consistent and sustained manner,” a final meeting report said.

On Thursday, Turkey was given a week to reconsider its position and to return to dialogue before the EU decides on potential sanctions. These are expected to be deferred to its December summit. 

“Turkey remains consistent in its aggressive behavior,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Thursday at the opening of the EU Summit in Brussels.

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Charles Ellinas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had missed a good opportunity by sending back the Oruc Reis.

“By doing so he snapped the EU and particularly Germany that put so much into bringing Greece and Turkey back from confrontation into discussions,” he told Arab News, saying that he did not expect the EU to go much further for the time being. 

“They will still give Ankara time, possibly to the start of December, to return to the original plans and commence discussions with Greece. This is the preferred way forward by the EU but, if aggressive actions continue beyond that, then the EU will be forced to act.” 

He said that Greece would not be drawn into a naval confrontation but would pursue all other avenues to resist Turkey's actions, and that only negotiations could lead to a resolution. But it was unclear how serious Erdogan was in wanting a resolution or if he was determined to stick to his guns for domestic political reasons.

“Especially as seismic surveys for hydrocarbons are nothing but an excuse,” Ellinas added. “Not only (as) these cannot take place effectively with so many warships around the Oruc Reis, but the likelihood of finding hydrocarbons is very small.”

Using maritime disputes in the east Mediterranean as leverage may be a strategy for the Turkish government to bolster domestic support ahead of any snap elections amid a worsening economy and the COVID-19 pandemic, regardless of what impact these actions may have on EU relations.

“With regard to the return of the Oruc Reis to disputed waters even Germany, who has adopted a more balanced and moderate view with regard to the conflict between Turkey and Greece, has the perception that Turkey has duped the EU on this issue,” Gallia Lindenstrauss, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, told Arab News.

Germany has tried to broker a de-escalation in the eastern Mediteranean, but Turkey’s recently increasing assertiveness in the region has weakened support for any diplomatic initiative.

Lindenstrauss believed that Ankara wanted to negotiate.

“But it wants to come to the negotiations from a position of strength. Clearly its provocative actions in different arenas are meant to give it such an advantage, but it is not clear that indeed Turkey feels strengthened enough at this point to stop the escalation. The Turkish actions are causing a strong backlash that will also at some point force the Turkish side to moderate its actions.”

Turkey has also been aggravating its relations with other Western partners, namely the US. On Friday it fired a missile to test out a Russian-made air defense system.


Security forces keep radical protesters away from French Embassy in Beirut

Updated 13 min 29 sec ago

Security forces keep radical protesters away from French Embassy in Beirut

  • Calls for a demonstration by radical Islamic groups spread on social media platforms
  • Security forces had anticipated Friday’s protest and tightened security in the heart of Beirut

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces prevented the arrival of hundreds of protesters at the French ambassador’s residence and the French Embassy in Lebanon on Friday.

They feared the recurrence of riots similar to the ones that erupted in front of the Danish Embassy in Ashrafieh, Beirut, in 2006, and led to 28 people being injured, damage to storefronts, and the burning of the consulate building and terrorizing of people.

A few hundred worshippers left mosques after Friday prayers and marched to defend the Prophet Muhammad.

Calls for a demonstration by radical Islamic groups spread on social media platforms.

Khaldoun Qawwas, Dar Al-Fatwa’s media spokesperson, told Arab News: “These groups have nothing to do with Dar Al-Fatwa, which has already announced its position regarding what happened in France in two separate statements.”

Sheikh Abdul Latif Deryan, the grand mufti of Lebanon, in a statement issued a week earlier, said that “freedom of opinion and expression does not entail insulting the beliefs and symbols of others, and this requires a reconsideration of the concept of absolute freedom.”

He stressed the “renunciation of violence and confrontation of radicalism and terrorism that has no religion or race.”

Security forces had anticipated Friday’s protest and tightened security in the heart of Beirut, since the embassy and the French ambassador’s residence are located where roads leading to the city’s western and eastern neighborhoods intersect. This led to a huge traffic jam in the capital.

The protest’s starting point was the Gamal Abdel Nasser Mosque in Al-Mazraa, situated only a few kilometers from the Residence des Pins (Pine Residence).

Three major security checkpoints — one set up by the riot police — separated the Residence des Pins and protesters, some of whom were transported by buses from the north of Lebanon to Beirut.

Protesters held Islamic signs and chanted slogans denouncing France, its President Emmanuel Macron and its former colonization of the country. Some protesters tried to remove barbed wire and threw stones, water bottles and batons at the security forces. Another group burned the French flag. Security forces responded by throwing tear gas canisters, leading to the retreat of the protesters.

In a statement, Lebanon’s Supreme Council of the Roman Catholic condemned “the terrorist attack in the French city of Nice.”

The council considered that “this terrorist crime has nothing to do with Islam and Muslims. It is an individual act carried out by terrorists haunted by radicalism, obscurantism and the rejection of the French people’s historical civilizational values. Through their acts, they abuse the spirit of tolerance, coexistence, acceptance of the other and the freedom of thought and belief which all religions call for.”

The council called for “staying away from defaming religions and beliefs and inciting hate and resentment among people, raising the voice of moderation, wisdom and reason, working together in the spirit of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together announced by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb from the UAE last year.”

During the Friday sermon, Grand Jaafari Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Kabalan condemned “any criminal act against any people, including the French people.” He added: “We categorically reject what happened in Nice yesterday, strongly condemn it and consider it a blatant and insolent attack on Muslims before others.”

He simultaneously condemned “the official French position that affronted the Prophet, took lightly and made light of the feelings of millions of Muslims.”