Advancing a Free Society

Kastelorizo: Mediterranean Flashpoint?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

It is the far-flung, easternmost island of Greece, 80 miles from Rhodes, 170 miles west of Cyprus, but just one mile off the coast of Turkey. Kastelorizo (in Greek, Καστελόριζο; or officially Megisti, Μεγίστη) is tiny, comprising just five square miles, plus some yet smaller, uninhabited islands. Its 430 inhabitants are way down from 10,000 in the late nineteenth century. The Lonely Planet travel guide has picked it as one of the four best Greek islands (out of thousands) for diving and snorkeling. There’s no public transportation from nearby Anatolia, only from distant Rhodes by airplane or ferry.

That Athens controls this wisp of land implies it could (but does not yet) claim an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Mediterranean Sea that reduces the Turkish EEZ to a fraction of what it would be were the island under Ankara’s control — as maps reproduced from the Cypriot newspaper I Simerini illustrate. The top map shows Greece claiming its full 200-nautical-mile EEZ and controlling Kastelorizo EEZ (indicated by the red arrow); the bottom one shows the Greek EEZ minus Kastelorizo (indicated by the white arrow).

Were Athens to claim its full EEZ, Kastelorizo’s presence would make its EEZ contiguous with the EEZ of Cyprus, a factor with great import now, at a moment of massive off-shore gas and oil discoveries. Kastelorizo with an EEZ benefits the emerging Greece-Cyprus-Israel alliance by making it possible to transport either Cypriot and Israeli natural gas (via pipeline) or electricity (via cable) to Western Europe without Turkish permission. This has taken on special urgency since November 4, when Turkey’s minister for energy, Taner Yıldız, announced that his government would not permit Israeli natural gas to transit Turkish territory; Ankara will likely also ban Cypriot exports.

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(photo credit: Stelios Zacharias)