By JTW January 19, 2016
By Matthew Bryza*
The United States has important national interests at stake in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is the region where the U.S.’ two most serious national security threats converge – ISIS and a revanchist Russia. It is also where two of Washington’s most important allies, Turkey and Israel, once enjoyed a strategic partnership, which may now be rising again after collapsing 5 years ago. Additionally, while four decades of political conflict in Cyprus have aggravated tensions between NATO members Greece and Turkey and obstructed military cooperation between NATO and the EU, Cyprus settlement talks may be approaching a breakthrough. Finally, two of the world’s largest natural gas discoveries in the past 15 years are located in the Eastern Mediterranean: the Leviathan field in Israel and the Zohr field in Egypt.
While many observers worry that Turkey’s shooting down of the Russian air force fighter on November 24 threatens to engulf the region in a war between Russia and NATO, in reality, Russia’s response has been restrained. Moscow’s sanctions against Ankara have been relatively mild, while President Putin has never termed Turkey’s action an “act of war,” calling it, instead, a “stab in the back” and a “hostile action.” Futher, despite crude language accusing Ankara of doing Washington’s bidding, President Putin received U.S. Secretary of State Kerry on December 15 in search of cooperation on Syria issues.
President Putin knows his case against Turkey is weak. Ankara repeatedly warned Moscow to stop its violations against both Turkish airspace and its bombing of ethnic Turkomen in northern Syria. The Russian President realizes he cannot object too much to Ankara’s claimed right to protect these ethnic Turks who found themselves on the Syrian side of the border after the Ottoman Empire collapsed, lest he risk undermining his own justification for invading eastern Ukraine and annexing Crimea, namely, to protect Ukraine’s Russian minority.