Most Dangerous Waters in the World Are in the Mediterranean


Greek ships headed to Turkey? It’s happened before. Photographer: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

Most Dangerous Waters in the World Are in the Mediterranean

NATO is caught in a combustible mix of oil, Libyan arms and longstanding grievances between Greece and Turkey.


As a Greek-American who lived in Athens for three years, and as a U.S. Navy mariner, I got to know the eastern Mediterranean well. It has been a strategic crossroads throughout history for Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Jews, Phoenicians, Romans, Crusaders and more modern sea warriors.

Whenever I’ve sailed the waters, during the Cold War and afterward, there has been intense disagreement about maritime boundaries, conflicting claims for natural resources, and other geopolitical pressures stemming from the unstable relations among Greece, Turkey, Israel, Cyprus and Syria.

Unfortunately, I’ve never seen things more volatile in the eastern Mediterranean than right now — even in periods when Israel has been in combat against its neighbors ashore. What are the factors driving this tension, and what is the role of the U.S.?

First, the current turbulence stems largely from the discovery of large deposits of oil and natural gas in the seabed. Estimates put the size of the deposits at around 2 billion barrels of oil and 4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, and the nations of the region naturally are moving aggressively to exploit the wealth. In January 2019, a loose consortium to develop the resources was forged, consisting of Israel, Egypt, Italy, Greece, Jordan and the Palestinian territories — but not Turkey.

As a Greek-American who lived in Athens for three years, and as a U.S. Navy mariner, I got to know the eastern Mediterranean well. It has been a strategic crossroads throughout history for Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Jews, Phoenicians, Romans, Crusaders and more modern sea warriors.

Whenever I’ve sailed the waters, during the Cold War and afterward, there has been intense disagreement about maritime boundaries, conflicting claims for natural resources, and other geopolitical pressures stemming from the unstable relations among Greece, Turkey, Israel, Cyprus and Syria.

Unfortunately, I’ve never seen things more volatile in the eastern Mediterranean than right now — even in periods when Israel has been in combat against its neighbors ashore. What are the factors driving this tension, and what is the role of the U.S.?

First, the current turbulence stems largely from the discovery of large deposits of oil and natural gas in the seabed. Estimates put the size of the deposits at around 2 billion barrels of oil and 4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, and the nations of the region naturally are moving aggressively to exploit the wealth. In January 2019, a loose consortium to develop the resources was forged, consisting of Israel, Egypt, Italy, Greece, Jordan and the Palestinian territories — but not Turkey.