Turkey has launched the first of six new submarines, within a plan to upgrade its fleet of 12 submarines.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched the new underwater craft on 22 December, from a dry dock in the town of Gölcük on the Marmara Sea. The Piri Reis submarine would come into service by 2022.
It is the first of six German-designed Type-214 submarines Turkey plans build and operate by 2027.
The new submarines will substitute six of Turkey’s Type-209 submarines, also based on a German design. The launch of the new submarine comes at a time of high tension in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Eastern Mediterranean nations keep building up military power to protect the unfolding natural gas wealth in the region and prevent encroachments, especially with Turkey trying to assert itself and get a piece of its huge natural gas cake.
Istanbul raised the stakes in late November by signing a maritime boundary delimitation deal and another on security cooperation with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), which rules Libyan capital Tripoli.
The deals allow Turkey to deploy troops in Tripoli, at the request of the GNA, and give it a say in natural gas exploration in the region, according to Erdogan.
These developments are ringing the alarm in the Eastern Mediterranean. Egypt rejected the deals and said they are both “illegal” and “groundless”, given the fact that the GNA, is not legally authorized to sign international deals. The GNA, Egypt says, does not represent the whole of Libya.
Egypt has also launched an international diplomatic offensive with the aim of convincing world powers that Turkey does not have the right to have presence either inside Libya or off its Mediterranean coast.
It has addressed the United Nations against the deals Turkey signed with the GNA.
Away from these diplomatic efforts, Egypt increases its military buildup in the Mediterranean to protect its interests in the region and prevent potential harassment, probably adding to the mushrooming militarization of the region.
On December 12, Egypt’s navy carried out a series of drills off the Arab country’s Mediterranean coast.
The drills, the Egyptian army said, aimed at imposing maritime control over the Egyptian economic zone in the Mediterranean and securing Egypt’s interests in the region.
Several naval units, including a Mistral-class assault helicopter carrier, participated in the training, the army said.
The drills also included the firing by an Egyptian submarine of an anti-ship surface-to-surface (Harpoon) missile at a range of over 130 kilometers, with another surface-to-sea missile successfully launched as well, the army added.
Two days earlier, Italy sent a frigate near an operations area of the Italian energy company Eni off the coast of Cyprus.
The frigate, Federico Martinengo, made a stop in the port of Larnaca in what the Italian government said was part of a patrol operation and in the protection of national interests without specifying its duties.
This snowballing military presence in the region raises fears of a collision, especially with Turkey insisting to assert what it calls its “rights” in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Israel, Greece, and Cyprus are expected to move ahead with the development of a pipeline that will carry natural gas from the region to Europe.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will travel to Athens, Greece, in early January where he will sign an agreement on the EastMed pipeline, Netanyahu’s office said on December 23.
The agreement has been in the works for two years now. It will push the three countries’ commitment to moving ahead with the project.
Nevertheless, the risks are very high with Erdogan insisting that Eastern Mediterranean countries have to get approval from his country before extending pipelines or exploring natural gas.