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Report & Analysis

Gas Conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Role of Turkish Naval Forces in Protecting Turkey’s Sovereignty Rights

by İbrahim SÜNNETÇİ

Issue 95

The discovery of rich hydrocarbon (oil and natural-gas) reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean, once appreciated with hope that it could serve as a catalyst for peace, stability and cooperation in the region, in time has turned into a source of tension and conflict and a realization that greater resources lead to more disputes. 

Rising tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean could have a destabilizing effect on the regional countries. Due to disputes about the demarcation of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and rights to explore offshore natural gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean, tensions are rising dangerously between the Republic of Cyprus, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Israel and Lebanon. Now it is feared that if the regional countries cannot not find a way, a solution, on how to share the new wealth between them, a new war could be ignited in the region due to the gas conflict.

The obvious solution on this dispute/conflict would be to establish mutual cooperation between Eastern Mediterranean countries Greece, Republic of Cyprus, Turkey, TRNC, Lebanon, Israel (including the Palestinian Authority) and Egypt in finding a way regarding the handling of natural gas reserves in and around the disputed EEZs and to share the new wealth between them.

It is clear that these new gas field discoveries valued in multi-billion dollars in the Mediterranean has attracted the attention of state and non-state actors such as the U.S., Russian Federation and EU member countries and lead to the establishment of new regional alliances or axis among Greece, Republic of Cyprus, Israel and Egypt to confront Turkey, which opposes the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus (GCASC)’s exploitation of offshore energy reserves and is insisting that a lasting peace deal must be reached between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots (TRNC and Republic of Cyprus) before international agreements over the hydrocarbon reserves can be made. However, regardless of Turkey’s opposition, the Republic of Cyprus continues exploration activities and giving licenses to big oil companies to find gas around Cyprus Island. 

According to Turkey, the Republic of Cyprus does not have the right or the authority to sign EEZ agreements with riparian states and current actions of GCASC such as hydrocarbon exploration and exports are in direct conflict with international laws, and they violate the rights of TRNC citizens. 

The concept of EEZ was designed by the 1982 United Nations Maritime Law Convention. The EEZ is an area which is beyond, and is adjacent to, a given country’s territorial seas, and extends no more than 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from a country’s own coastlines. When the 200 nautical miles from the coastline of a state intersects with the 200nm area of another state, as in the Black Sea, the Aegean and the Mediterranean, the two (or more) riparian states are expected to reach an agreement between themselves. There is no mutual agreement in place regarding the EEZs between Eastern Mediterranean countries. There are a few agreements signed between Greece, Egypt, Israel and the Republic of Cyprus on the demarcation of the EEZs. After a two-year negotiation in 2003, the Republic of Cyprus and Egypt have delimited the EEZ between them. On 17 December 2010, Israel and the Republic of Cyprus signed a bilateral agreement demarcating their maritime borders, EEZs, to facilitate offshore gas exploration. A preliminary agreement on the demarcation of the EEZ between Greece and Egypt was also signed in November 2014, when the first Trilateral Summit between Greece, the Republic of Cyprus and Egypt which had then taken place in Cairo. However, since the EEZs defined under these agreements significantly restricted the Turkish EEZ in the Mediterranean, the Turkish Government has not recognized any of these agreements. And this causes multiple problems when there is exploration and drilling activities for hydrocarbon in and around Cyprus Island. It is clear that in order to overcome potential military conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean Greece and the Republic of Cyprus have to find a way to agree with Turkey and the TRNC regarding the handling of natural gas reserves in and around Cyprus Island.

Hydrocarbon Deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean

The discoveries of oil and gas fields in the Mediterranean continue to increase in number year by year since 2009. A 2010 U.S. Geological Survey report estimated that there were 122 Trillion Cubic Feet ([TCF], equivalent to 3,455 Billion Cubic Metres [BCM]) of gas and 1,7 billion barrels of oil off the coasts of Israel, the Gaza Strip, Cyprus Island, Syria and Lebanon. Egypt, Lebanon, Israel and Cyprus Island are sitting on the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean, where new gas fields have been discovered.

Ruling out the rights of Turkey, the TRNC and Lebanon, Israel, the Republic of Cyprus and Egypt are nowadays exploring new ways to use the gas fields Tamar (the Tamar drilling platform sits 25km west of the Ashkelon shore of Israel and contains roughly 320 BCM), Leviathan (located approximately 130km west of Haifa, Israel and contains roughly 600 BCM), Aphrodite (in Block 12, just 30 kilometers [19 miles] northwest of the Leviathan and contains 130 BCM), Zohr (situated more than 150km from the Egypt coast and contains an estimated 850 BCM [nearly 30 TCF of gas]), and Calypso (in Block 6 offshore Cyprus Island, Israel’s news website Globes has reported that Calypso might hold 170-230 BCM of gas), which were discovered in January 2009, December 2010, December 2011, August 2015 and February 2018 respectively. Meanwhile, big oil companies are finding more and more gas around Cyprus Island for example, at the end of February 2019 ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum partnership made a big natural gas field discovery and named it after the symbolic owl ‘Glaucus’. According to preliminary estimates, the capacity of the Glaucus-1 reserve is between 142 and 227 billion cubic meters. The Greek Cypriot Administration declared the discovery to be the largest reserve of Cyprus Island.

In early July 2019, the Republic of Cyprus and Egypt agreed to build a pipeline to take gas from the first big discovery to Egypt for eventual export. In 2019, the representatives of Israel, Greek Cypriot Administration, Greece, Italy, Jordan and Palestine met in Cairo. After the meeting, the ‘Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum’ was announced. The aim of the Forum was to design the Eastern Mediterranean dish as an energy base and to cooperate in the use of the region’s resources. Three countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria did not attend the meeting.

In late January 2018, Lebanon signed an agreement with a Consortium comprised of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek. The deal allows the three companies to explore for gas in an area also claimed by Israel. Following the signing of agreement Israel and Lebanon have engaged in a war of words over a gas deal in disputed waters. Lebanon finally started offshore oil and gas exploration in May 2018 after authorities approved an exploration plan submitted by the Consortium. Lebanon has implemented its own legal framework to facilitate exploration in its waters and launched its first oil and gas production-licensing auction in January 2017. In April 2019 Lebanon’s Council of Ministers approved the launch of the Second Offshore Licensing Round (SOLR). Companies interested in participating in the licensing round have been invited to submit their applications for Blocks 1, 2, 5, 8 and 10 before the January 31, 2020. According to open sources Lebanon has an unresolved maritime border dispute with Israel over a triangular area of sea of around 860 sq.km.

The new reserves gave Israel enough resources to not only satiate its own demand but to also make it a significant exporter. Before the discovery of Tamar and Leviathan, Israel had been dependent on natural gas from its neighbour Egypt. On 19 February 2018, for example, Israel and Egypt signed a multibillion-dollar agreement to export Israeli gas to Egypt. The discovery of the Zohr gas field (which become operational in December 2017), on the other hand, has decreased Egypt’s need for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) imports from Israel and the Republic of Cyprus. The country plans to achieve self-sufficiency in natural gas by year-end and a surplus in 2019 and is moving ahead with its strategy to become a regional hub for energy.

New Axis in the Eastern Mediterranean 

Following the discovery of rich hydrocarbon deposits in the disputed EEZs and the extent of the wealth became clearer the Greeks, Greek Cypriots and Israelis have engaged in intense negotiations over oil and gas exploration and a new axis emerged between Egypt, Israel, the Republic of Cyprus and Greece to confront Turkey. In addition to agreements for the exploitation of the Eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbon deposits, Greece and the Republic of Cyprus have also signed agreements with Israel and Egypt to cooperate in the defence field to protect their new wealth against potential threats. Greece and the Republic of Cyprus are slowly but steadily enhancing their strategic cooperation with Egypt and Israel. Defence ties between these countries have been strengthened as a result of regularly organized bilateral military exercises. Israel wants to improve military relations with Greece in order to counterbalance the expansion of Turkey’s regional influence. On January 10, 2012, the Republic of Cyprus and Israel signed two important bilateral military agreements permitting the Israel Air Force (IAF) to utilize airspace and territorial waters around the island to safeguard and protect crucial energy resources and the exchange of classified information.

In April 2015, the Egyptian Minister of Defence Sedki SOBHI met with his Greek counterpart Panos KAMMENOS to discuss the possibilities to “enhance cooperation and military relations between the armed forces of both countries.” In May 2015, Greek Air Force units performed in Egypt for the military exercise Horus 2015, where Egyptian, Greek and Republic of Cyprus Naval Forces conducted a joint practice drill in the Mediterranean. In December 2015 while the Egyptian Naval and Air Forces units were in Greece to participate in the joint military exercise Meidoza (Medusa 2015) 2015, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-SISI signed an agreement on with his Greek Cypriots counterpart Nicos ANASTASIADES and Greek Prime Minister Alexis TSIPRAS covering the cooperation on energy and security/defence issues.

Egyptian, Republic of Cyprus and Greek Armed Forces conducted the Medusa 2016 joint military drills, which were held in the southeast Aegean Sea and on the island of Crete from 5 to 8 December 2016. Units from the Egyptian Air and Naval Forces participated in the drills together with Greek forces. During the Exercise, Egyptian Navy ships were moored at Souda Naval Base. Furthermore, two Greek Air Force F-16s stationed in an Egyptian Air Force Base and the participating Egyptian F-16s operated from the 115 Combat Wing in Crete.

On 17 May 2017, Greece and Egypt signed the Military Cooperation Program (MCP) 2017 at Hellenic National Defence General Staff (HNDGS) Head Quarters. From 30 July to 3 August 2017 Egyptian and Greek Air and Naval Forces conducted a joint military exercise. Dubbed as ‘Medusa 2017’ the Exercise was held in the framework of the military cooperation between the two countries.  After holding the first tripartite defence meeting of their countries at the air and maritime coordinating center in the southern city of Larnaca in December 2017, the Defence Ministers of the Republic of Cyprus, Greece and Egypt, Christoforos FOKAIDES, Panos KAMENOS of Greece, and Sedki SOBHI have agreed on joint ground, air and naval exercises, exchanging information and cooperating in the exploitation of energy sources in the Levantine region.

In June and December 2017 Israeli special forces from Unit 621, also known as Egoz, and a part of the 89th Commando Brigade, also known as the Oz Brigade, performed multi-day exercises, practicing urban and mountain warfare, with local troops in the Republic of Cyprus. And in October 2017 Republic of Cyprus soldiers travelled to Israel in order to train with the Egoz Commando Unit of IDF. 

In April 2018 his Greek counterpart hosted IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi EISENKOT for the first time, while Defence Minister Avigdor LIEBERMAN hosted the Greek Defence Minister in Israel. These meetings followed a major improvement in military ties between Israel and Greece and the Republic of Cyprus. On 3 May 2018 Commander of the Israeli Navy Vice Admiral Eli SHARVIT visited Greek Navy’s Fleet HQ at Salamis Naval Base. In June 2018 Israel held a joint Air Force exercise with Greece. For the Exercise, which was conducted entirely in the air, without landing, and included two daytime flights, the IAF sent 40 aircraft from 10 different squadrons. The Exercise last 5 days, in which hundreds of fighter jets, helicopters and refuelling and cargo aircraft participated.

The Medusa-6 joint land and air exercise between Greece and Egypt, with the participation of Greek Cypriots forces was held from 23 to 29 June 2018 along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. The Medusa-6 Exercise is considered as a serious step to improve interoperability between the three countries in the Eastern Mediterranean. Greece took part in the Exercise, with two frigates, a submarine, a C-130 plane, eight F-16 jets, one Erieye EMB-145H EAW&C aircraft, one Chinook heavy lift helicopter and two Apache attack helicopters. The drill included naval and aerial training aiming at developing combat capabilities of the participating forces to deal with common threats and enhance security in the Mediterranean region. The Defence Ministers of Egypt, Greece and the Republic of Cyprus attended the main phase of the Medusa-6 Exercise.

The three countries conducted the “Medusa-7” joint military exercise on 24-30 November 2018 on and around the island of Crete. Greece’s then-Defence Minister Panos KAMMENOS and his counterparts from the Republic of Cyprus and Egypt, Savvas ANGELIDIS and Lieutenant General Mohamed ZAKI, attended the final phase of the exercise. Egyptian, Republic of Cyprus and Greek Armed Forces conducted the “Medusa-8” joint naval and aerial exercise in Egypt’s territorial waters in the Mediterranean from 13 to 19 April 2019, aimed to boost military cooperation between the three countries “in the framework of the annual plan for joint exercises by the (Egyptian) Armed Forces to promote and support military cooperation with brotherly and friendly countries,” said a statement by the Egyptian Armed Forces. The Defence Ministers, Egypt’s Lieutenant General Mohamed ZAKI, Greece’s Evangelos APOSTOLAKIS and Savvas ANGELIDIS of the Republic of Cyprus observed the main part of the Medusa-8 exercise. The Medusa-8 exercise is one of the most important drills in the Mediterranean, and reflects the level of cooperation among Egypt, Greece, and the Republic of Cyprus.

Turkey’s Political and Military Reaction to the New Axis

It is absurd to believe that Turkey will sit with arms crossed as the alliance of Egypt, Israel, the Republic of Cyprus and Greece perform exploration and drilling activities for oil and natural gas in and around Cyprus Island and draw upon hydrocarbon reserves in Turkish and TRNC EEZs. Soon after tensions flared in the Eastern Mediterranean gas scramble, Turkey engaged in gunboat diplomacy in defence of its interests. It is clear that by ignoring Turkey’s claims for its EEZ and testing its determination on this specific issue is a serious gamble and by this way Greece and the Republic of Cyprus are taking extremely risky and dangerous steps.

On 21 September 2011, as a demonstration of determination, Turkey signed the continental shelf delimitation agreement with the TRNC in New York, U.S. Soon after the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus (GCASC) issued licenses for oil and natural-gas exploration in its claimed EEZs in the Eastern Mediterranean, tension between Turkey and the Greek Cypriots-Greece duo increased dangerously. Having a claim that possible offshore reserves are also owned by the Turkish part of the island ,Turkey strongly criticized the move, underling that it was a clear breach of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots’ rights and sent the Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa a seismic exploration vessel to the region for its own drilling purposes and one warship for the surveillance of foreign platform vessels being used for oil exploration. 

Ankara insists that a lasting peace deal must be reached between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots before international agreements over the hydrocarbon reserves can be made.  Turkey also rejected 2013’s maritime border demarcation between Egypt and the Republic of Cyprus by saying it “violates the Turkish continental shelf at latitude 32, 16, and 18 degrees.” In a letter submitted on 2 May 2017 to the United Nations (UN)’ General Assembly, Turkey’s permanent representative to the UN, Feridun SİNİRLİOĞLU, stated that “Turkey is committed to protecting its sovereign rights emanating from international law and will not allow foreign companies to conduct unauthorized hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation activities on its continental shelf.”

In an interview on 4 February 2018 with the Greek daily Kathimerini, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt ÇAVUŞOĞLU described the agreement signed between Egypt and the Republic of Cyprus in December 2013 on the joint exploitation of hydrocarbon reserves on the Eastern Mediterranean as “null and void.” “We have clearly stated that the agreement violates Turkey’s continental shelf,” Minister ÇAVUŞOĞLU noted. On the other hand, on 7 February 2018 Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu ZEID warned in an official statement against contesting the agreement on the demarcation of the maritime border between Egypt and the Republic of Cyprus. In February 2018, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh SHOUKRY, defended not only the Republic of Cyprus offshore gas exploration projects but also stated that the 2003 EEZ maritime agreement with the Republic of Cyprus is valid. So, any Turkish move to block this would be taken as an attack on Egypt, as well.

Some of the so-called licensed areas, established by the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus (GCASC) in 2007 in the south of Cyprus Island, partially overlap Turkish maritime jurisdiction areas in the Eastern Mediterranean. In this context, the so-called Block 1, 4, 5, 6 (where the Calypso, the second natural gas reserve in Cyprus is located in) and Block 7 are partially within Turkey’s EEZ. That is why on 9 February 2018 Turkish Naval vessels, on manoeuvres in the Mediterranean Sea, prevented the Saipem 1200 drill ship, working for Italian energy firm ENI, to reach a disputed offshore block. After being warned by Turkish Naval Forces (TNF) the Saipem 1200 vessel manoeuvred out of the area and set sail for Morocco.

Turkey initially demonstrated significant effort to negotiate with international energy companies participating in the drilling activities around the Island of Cyprus. Turkey even invited other parties to perform joint search activities, however its efforts and invitations were not answered. As tensions flare over the hydrocarbon reserves around the Island of Cyprus, Turkey then announced it would launch its own oil and gas research/drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey granted exploration licenses to Turkish Petroleum in 2009 and 2012 in the Eastern Mediterranean off the Island of Cyprus. Since April 2017 Turkey has accelerated its seismic research and drilling activities in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. This has been achieved with the help of Turkey’s first seismic vessel Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa, which was bought from Norway in 2013. It has been conducting exploration in the Mediterranean since April 2017. On 31 May 2018 Turkey sent its first drilling vessel Fatih, formerly known as the Deepsea Metro II, to the Mediterranean for deep-sea well drilling operations, marking the beginning of a new era in its energy plans. Fatih is equipped with the cutting-edge technological equipment and is able to drill up to 12,000 meters. Turkey currently continues oil and gas exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean at full speed. Escorted by Turkish Navy frigates the drilling vessels “Yavuz” and “Fatih” continue drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus Island since spring 2019. At the end of August 2019, Turkey’s second seismic exploration vessel, the MTA Oruc Reis, previously conducted seismic surveys in the Black Sea and Marmara, was also sent to the Eastern Mediterranean.  Turkey continues its research and drilling activities in the Mediterranean with the two seismic and the two drilling vessels.

Turkey declared its readiness to go to war over the hydrocarbon wealth claims in the Eastern Mediterranean in 2014. On 9 November 2014, the then Commander of the Turkish Naval Forces Admiral Bülent BOSTANOĞLU told reporters during the ‘Blue Whale 2014’ Naval Exercise that he had been ordered to implement new rules of engagement in the Eastern Mediterranean if Turkish vessels encountered Greek, Egyptian or Israeli ships. “The Prime Ministry handed over the rules of engagement to the Chief of Turkish General Staff (TGS) and the Chief of TGS handed them over to the Naval Forces Command. We will act in line with these rules of engagement in the event we face a situation over this issue,” Adm. BOSTANOĞLU told reporters.

After witnessing the Beyaz Fırtına (White Storm) Military Exercise, a biennial military drill conducted during 14-25 May 2018 in the East Mediterranean and the Aegean waters, the then Chief of TGS General Hulusi AKAR (on July 9, 2018 appointed as Turkish MoND) said that “the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) are determined to protect our country’s rightful interests, in accordance with international law and conventions in all our territorial waters.” “We always say if dialogue and cooperation cannot solve the issue, we will use our powers without hesitation,” General AKAR warned. 

In August 2019 after receiving a brief about Turkey’s activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Seas while aboard the Turkish Navy frigate accompanying Yavuz drilling vessel Turkish Minister of National Defence (MoND) Hulusi AKAR made it clear that Turkey will not sit and watch without doing anything, while others drill for oil and gas. “We have defended our own rights, and the people of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) to the end and will continue to do so. Nobody should try to test our strength,” MoND AKAR said. Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the TRNC also has rights to the resources in the area.

As one of the leading regional powers in its region and having one of the strongest naval forces in the world, in terms of number and technology, Turkey has to establish a robust and constant presence in the Mediterranean to face any challenges in disputed maritime domains and to prevent any fait accompli on the continental shelf issue. For this purpose, in April 2018 Turkey deployed at least 14 naval surface and under surface platforms (two-three frigates, two-three corvettes, one or two submarines two-three fast patrol boats and six or seven corvettes) to perform 24/7surveillance (to monitor drilling activities) and reconnaissance missions in the Eastern Mediterranean. In this context the TCG Barbaros frigate and three corvettes were dispatched to monitor the Turkish EEZ around the Island of Cyprus.  

To show its determination and deterrence Turkey has been conducting large naval exercises in the Mediterranean during recent years. The Turkish naval exercise “Mavi Vatan”, translated “Blue Homeland”, which took place from 27 February to 8 March 2019 and was an important show of force on 462,000 square kilometers in the Black Sea, the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, with 103 naval vessels (including 13 frigates, 6 corvettes, 16 assault boats, 7 submarines, 7 mine hunters, 17 auxiliary vessels, 14 patrol boats, 22 landing crafts and a training ship) and with the participation of 20,000 soldiers. Blue Homeland 2019 was Turkey’s largest naval exercise until then in the country’s history, testing its ability to wage war simultaneously in the Black Sea, Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. This was conducted at a time of rising tensions over Turkey’s plans to increase its efforts to explore for gas and oil off the coast of Cyprus Island during 13-25 May 2019 Turkish Naval Forces Command carried out Deniz Kurdu 2019 (Sea Wolf 2019), the largest planned exercise in the history of the Republic, with the participation of 131 ships, 57 planes, 33 helicopters and  25,900 military personnel simultaneously in three seas surrounding (Black Sea, Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean) Anatolian peninsula. Regarding the Deniz Kurdu 2019 exercise MoND AKAR said, “With the exercise, we aim to show the resolution of the Turkish Armed Forces and capability to protect the country’s security as well as its rights and interests in the seas.”

Turkish Naval Forces & Protection of Turkey’s Sovereignty Rights in the Eastern Mediterranean

Due to its geo-strategic position and geopolitical situation Turkey is obliged to be a maritime state and dictates it to have and sustain a powerful naval force. The Turkish Naval Forces Command (TNFC), the maritime muscle of Turkey, is organized into four major subordinate commands, which includes; Fleet Command (Gölcük, Kocaeli), Northern Sea Area Command (Istanbul), Southern Sea Area Command (Izmir) and Naval Training & Education Command (Istanbul). As part of on-going transformation efforts that were started in 2011 within Fleet Command, three separate Task Group Commands (namely North, South and West) have been formed. In 2015 in order to assure coordination and cooperation among those three Task Group Commands, the War Fleet Command (covers frigates, corvettes and fast patrol boats) was established and subordinated to the Fleet Command. Today, the Fleet Command, which constitutes the striking power of the Turkish Naval Forces, is the largest of the naval components and consists of: War Fleet Command, Submarine Fleet Command, Mine Fleet Command and Naval Aviation Command (the Command commemorated its 104th anniversary in June 2018).

Although it has shrunk considerably after the bloody coup attempt carried out by the Fetullahist Terrorist Organization (FETO) on 15 July 2016, today Turkey still boasts one of the largest Naval Forces in the world. In July 2019 the Turkish MoND disclosed that since 15 July 2016 17,505 personnel including generals and admirals have been discharged from the TAF. During his address at Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) on 1 November 2018 MoND AKAR disclosed that since 15 July 2016 15,153 personnel including 150 generals and admirals, 7,595 officers, 5,723 sergeants, 1,261 specialists/contracted private and 424 civil servants were discharged from the TAF. The number of Generals and Admirals in the TAF decreased from 325 (in total 358 including 325 in Army, Navy and Air Force, 32 in Gendarmerie and 1 in Coast Guard) to 261 (to 196 if we count Gendarmerie and Coast Guard, which have been affiliated under the Ministry of Internal Affairs following the bloody coup attempt), due to discharges that were carried out after the bloody coup attempt. In this context, while there were a total of 54 Admirals (2 Admirals, 4 Vice Admirals, 12 Rear Admirals [UH] and 36 Rear Admirals [LH]) in the TNFC before July 15, 2016, as of August 21, 2016 32 Admirals, 65 Officers, 75 Sergeant and 5 Specialist Sergeant have been discharged from the Turkish Navy. As of February 2017, the number of Generals/Admirals increased to 201, and to 215 as of 1 July 2018. With Supreme Military Council (YAŞ)’s decision dated August 2, 2018; the number of Generals/Admirals were increased to 244 as of 30th August 2018 thanks to new promotions. The situations of the Generals, Admirals and Colonels within the TAF, who will be promoted, whose term of office will be extended and who will be retired due to lack of cadre or on grounds of age, are discussed during the YAŞ meeting held in August every year. In a press briefing held after the Supreme Military Council’s annual summer meeting on 2 August 2019, Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim KALIN announced that the number of active generals and admirals will drop from 241 to 233 after the implementation of YAŞ 2019 decisions. 

According to open sources before YAŞ 2019 promotions (1 Rear Admiral [LH] has been promoted to Rear Admiral [UH] rank and 11 Colonels have been promoted to Rear Admiral [LH] rank) and retirements (1 Rear Admiral [UH] and 7 Rear Admiral [LH] have been retired due to lack of cadre) there were 50 admirals in TNFC including 1 Admiral (Naval Forces Commander), 1 Vice Admiral (Fleet Commander), 6 Rear Admirals (UH) and 42 Rear Admirals (LH). According to our estimation as of 1 September 2019 the TNFC has 53 admirals including Naval Forces Commander Admiral Adnan ÖZBAL, Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Ercüment TATLIOĞLU, 6 Rear Admirals (UH) and 45 Rear Admirals (LH), which is still less than the figure that it had before 15 July 2016.

Considering the fact that approximately 87% of Turkey’s foreign trade is performed via maritime shipping, ensuring the security of neighbouring seas and sea lines of communications, where Turkish maritime trade is concentrated and protecting the sovereignty rights and maritime interests of the country is of vital importance for Turkey. Supporting the defence of the TRNC and the protection of its vital rights and interests at sea is also among the objectives of the Turkish Naval Forces.

Due to the ongoing disputes on the delimitation of maritime jurisdiction areas (EEZs) in order to demonstrate a powerful presence against possible risks and threats existing in the Eastern Mediterranean and to discourage it and to prevent any fait accompli on the continental shelf issue, the TNF’s main area of concentration has been shifted from the Aegean to the Eastern Mediterranean. In order to ensure maritime security in risky maritime areas, the TNF ensures its constant presence either with a national asset or in coordination with NATO and/or multinational maritime task groups, to protect sea lines of communications. To provide security for the increasing tanker traffic at sea following the activation of the of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline, to have situational awareness in Turkish maritime jurisdiction areas and to assert its constant presence in large numbers around Cyprus Island, the TNF launched a national Maritime Security Operation named ‘Mediterranean Shield’ in the Eastern Mediterranean on 1 April 2006. Since February 2018 Operation Mediterranean Shield only covers duties and operations being carried out by the TNF surface and under surface platforms in the Eastern Mediterranean. Due to rising tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, in order to show its strength in the Mediterranean, the TNF has boosted its presence and deployed 26 naval vessels (including submarines) simultaneously under both Operation Mediterranean Shield and NATO/UN task forces as of March 2018