Huffington Post Greece – June 21, 2019
In a high-profile statement, Turkish President Erdoğan, referring to hydrocarbon exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, stressed that Turkey has already begun exploration and, if necessary, will bring its ships and aircraft to protect their interests Turkish Cypriots in the region. This statement came after the Greek Prime Minister’s communication with his Cypriot counterpart, focusing on gas and electricity issues in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as Turkish threats.
Erdoğan seeks to send a strong message to neighbors to take Turkey into account. And as is usually the case after any Turkish threat related to the interests of Athens, the same tone is echoed by various warmongering Greek analysts and observers about the possibility of war and the danger from Turkey and its current government for the security of Greece. Some even reached the point to confirm that Erdoğan’s statements are a declaration of war and the country must be put in emergency situation. However, such statements must be treated with a clear mind, far from emotion, and be read in depth to perceive the details of the situation in the two countries and to comprehend the next stage as well as the degree of seriousness of the risk.
Greece has just emerged from the electoral process for the European Parliament, which has demonstrated a serious decline in the popularity of the ruling party of SYRIZA and the return of right-wing New Democracy. If we look at the relations of the previous Greek government under Antonis Samaras with the Erdoğan government, we will see that it enjoyed a very good relationship with Ankara, the result of which was the reduction of tensions. The economic situation in Greece confirms that it does not desire any tension or escalation with Turkey. On the contrary, there is an urgent need to resolve the issue of gas in the eastern Mediterranean to bring stability to the Greek people who are particularly distressed.
However, the biggest mistake of the current government is that it is based on Europe’s view of resolving its disputes with Turkey or the energy dossier in the eastern Mediterranean, without trying to sit with the neighbor face to face, prioritizing Greek interests. During the last four years, the Cyprus issue has been put on the shelf and Alexis Tsipras dealt with issues of lesser importance that aggravated the country’s economic situation. The project of the Euro-Israeli pipeline was the first real step of the Tsipras government to support the economy, but even this has not been properly studied, resulting to the undermining of the importance of Greek gas in the south and west of the country by the Eastmed. In the context of this transitional atmosphere and in anticipation of the next government of Athens, we will not see an escalation in the coming period.
First of all, in order to understand the severity of rhetoric escalation from Ankara, we can make a simple comparison to better illustrate the scene: Is Turkey ready to open a war with Greece? The answer is the comparison of the situation between Turkey and Greece and between Turkey and Assad in Syria.
The Assad regime shot down a Turkish F-4 airplane in 2012 and repeatedly targeted Turkey’s interior with bombs and mortars. Also, only in the last four weeks, it hit Turkish observatories in the Idlib area more than four times causing the injury and death of several Turkish soldiers. Despite the support of the Kurdish militias in the Afrin region by the Assad regime with weapons and anti-tank missiles during the “Olive Branch” operation and despite the enormous weakness of the Assad army and the loss of nearly 70% of the control areas to the Syrian army opposition, Ankara did not have the courage to impose a safe area in northern Syria but continued to ask it from 2012 until 2016 and only when it got the green light from Washington and Moscow started the operation “Euphrates Shield” at the end of 2016.
When Turkey failed to take a steadfast harsh position against a internally shattered Syrian regime, is it ready to escalate against one of the world’s most powerful Air Aorce, such as Greek, and to open a war with a NATO member when Athens has not caused any threat to the Turkish national security or the life of Turkish soldiers like the Assad regime did in Syria?
Beyond the war language, Turkey is currently experiencing a severe crisis at the international, regional and internal levels. The economy suffers and Ankara is at the brink of a military and economic crisis with Washington in the light of continued Turkish adherence to the S-400 deal. While battles in the northwest of Syria continue, Turkey is trying to prevent a new wave of refugees that will be the largest in the last eight years amid tensions with the presence of Syrian refugees on its territory.
Consequently, it is undisputed that Turkey, before Greece, does not want any military, security or political escalation. High tones and movements in the maritime area of Cyprus can be read within two directions. The first is the interior one. Those who have been closely following the interior of Turkey in recent years know that there is a division between the rhetoric that is addressed to the Turkish people and is more nationalistic and the actual Turkish moves. Erdoğan, through the high tones, is trying to win the votes of Turkish voters. But with regard to the second direction, the Turkish government, suffering from the economic crisis, is trying through its actions at sea to press Athens and Nicosia to return to the negotiating table to find a commonly accepted solution.
It is most important that Greek analysts focus more on the interior of the country, especially in the next period when Greece needs to move into a phase of economic stability and the restoration of hope to the Greek people. Moreover, far from Ankara and Athens, Washington is rapidly processing a plan that will redefine the maritime borders of the entire eastern Mediterranean and will be presented on both sides within the next few weeks.