By Nick Stamatakis

Helleniscope’s readers have been closely watching as the last few weeks we presented details of the confrontation between Greece and Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean.  We have insisted in providing news and analysis in the military front, showing the superior training – despite the lack of the latest advanced systems – of Greek navy and Air Force… 1) We saw how the 40-yr old Greek frigate “Limnos” avoided being rammed by the “brand new” flagship of the Turkish navy and instead rammed it at the bow!  2) Then we saw the Greek anti-submarine helicopters playing a game of cat and mouse with the Turkish submarines in the Aegean. 3) Finally, in at least 2 separate episodes, Greek F-16 fighters escaped the Turkish radars, ridiculing Erdogan’s military, as they flew from Crete to Cyprus!

All these episodes denote a change of attitude in Greece, towards the Turkish threat.  We were used to calling the “standard” Greek attitude “defensive” and “phobic”.  Recently however, since General Floros took over at the helm as Chief of General Staff, things have turned to a more assertive stance.  It was even rumored that General Floros, backed by the full support of military leaders, has sat on the table with Prime Minister Mitsotakis and insisted developing a different strategy at all fronts.

General Floros – as well as NATO and EU leaders – have had  for a long time a clear picture of the two countries’ true military capabilities.  In a few words, Turkey has spent a great amount of money the last ten years in an effort to modernize its armed forces but (since Erdogan jailed or exiled a great number of pilots and other experienced leaders after the failed 2016 coup) the Turkish military was less than the formidable force state news advertised. Instead, Greece had the advantage in several fronts and especially with its superb, internationally acclaimed, air force pilots and its well trained navy, including the type 214 conventional submarines.

Many readers will of course remember that Greece had similar advantages in 1974: it had the then revolutionary F-4 Phantom fighters and several well positioned submarines just off the coast of Cyprus. Yet it was forced to a defeat after the betrayal by the organizers of the coup against Makarios and US, British and Israeli coordination in favor of Turkey – coupled with Russian “neutrality”. How is today’s situation different if not completely reversed? In many ways listed below:

  1. Turkey, starting with the unfortunate insult Erdogan issued against Simon Peres in Davos, Switzerland, about 10 years ago, has become “Israel’s biggest foe”, according to a very recent statement by the leader of the Israeli intelligence.
  2. On the opposite, Greece and Cyprus have taken steps not only providing Israel with the “strategic depth” necessary for its air force and naval deployments but also with the formation of a “triangular” alliance.  A small example of the benefits of this alliance for Israel was the ability of its Air Force to exercise on the Russian-made S-300 missiles stationed in Crete – the same missiles owned by Iran… We certainly expect that Israel has agreed to reciprocate – although nothing but warm statements is visible so far.
  3. Greece and Cyprus have formed another closely cooperating “triangular” alliance this time with Egypt.  This alliance has a clear military cooperation aspect: the common exercises include Egypt’s “Mistral” helicopter carriers, its two advanced FREMM frigates as well as its Rafale aircraft. On the diplomatic side, Greece and Egypt signed a partial agreement recently delineating their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Mediterranean. This agreement was criticized by many as allowing Egypt a bigger share than International Law of the Sea provides (45% for Greece – 55% for Egypt).  However, given the urgency of the situation (caused by chronic delays of the always tardy Greek political system), it has the effect of negating the Turkey-Libya EEZ pact, which was not based on the provisions of the Law of the Seas, but had created a “de facto” problem (SEE MAP ABOVE).
  4. The EEZ agreements Greece signed with Italy and Egypt (the latter one heavily sponsored by Secretary Pompeo, who was on the phone with Foreign Minister Mr.Dendias a few minutes before the latter signed the deal in Cairo), point the way to a possible solution. A look at the map of the Greece-Egypt EEZ deal and the Cyprus-Egypt EEZ (both blessed by the U.S. and soon – the latter -by the U.N.) proves that a rather small piece of the Eastern Mediterranean is left for delineation between Greece, Egypt, Cyprus and Turkey.  This author has repeatedly argued that in this rather limited area, Turkey – once they decide to sit at the negotiating table instead of shouting empty threats – they deserve to have a larger share, ON THE CONDITION THEY SATISFY THE ONLY GREEK RED LINE, NAMELY THE CONTINUATION OF THE EEZ BETWEEN GREECE AND CYPRUS. How wide this zone connecting Greece and Cyprus will be is a matter for discussion. But Greece’s – and other powers in the regions –  interests demand that it exists. (IMAGES ABOVE: LEFT: Partial EEZ delineation between Greece and Egypt.  RIGHT: The 2003 EEZ delineation between Cyprus and Egypt. )
  5. Fortunately for Greece, this “red line” seems to coincide: 1) With Israel’s security needs, as well with the – certainly ambitious – plans for the “East Med Pipeline”. 2) It also coincides with Egypt feeling threatened by Erdogan’s steady policy of support for the “Islamic Brotherhood”; Egypt, a country with traditionally very good relations with Greece, does not prefer to have a maritime border with Turkey. 3) It also satisfies France’s permanent ambitions for a share of the game in the region, at a time when French gas giant “Total” has heavily invested in gas exploration south of Crete and Cyprus – not to mention that French foreign policy is also mindful of Israel’s security needs. 4) It finally satisfies US policy of supporting Israel and keeping Turkey as an ally in NATO. 5) The position of other powers such as Britain (still holding two military bases in Cyprus) is less defined, although one would clearly assume that at this conjecture they would not deviate from US and France. 6) Russia is at odds with Erdogan in Libya and partly in Syria and would certainly not like to see a Turkish control over the Eastern Mediterranean beyond what they already have.

Underlying all the above parameters is the need for all major players in the region to “cut down to size” Turkey’s unrealistic ambitions for a return to the glorious “Otttoman” past, expressed in their “Blue Homeland” concept. Neither the smaller players (Greeks, Israelis, Armenians, Iranians and Arabs), nor the biggest powers (U.S., Russia, France and to a lesser extend Britain) want to see Turkey expand their “horizon”, which in current terms means expanding the “extremist Islamist” threat in a very wide region.  This convergence of interests has materialized recently in signing the major peace deal between Israel and the Emirates, seen everywhere as the most fervent “anti-Turkish” act in the Mideast during the last two decades. Even yesterday, two weeks after the signing ceremony, Ergodan was kicking and screaming, threatening the Emirates with closing down Turkey’s embassy there…

BELOW: A MAP SHOWING TURKEY’S “BLUE HOMELAND”…

In this background, the only allies Turkey can count on is Azerbaijan, with rather limited means to help, Qatar and Germany.  Angela Merkel has clearly expressed just today that “France’s interests in the Middle East do not coincide with ours” and, having millions of unassimilated Turkish immigrants in Germany, proceeded to declare that “we need to keep Turkey close to Europe”.  The Germany-Turkey ties go back centuries and include their infamous cooperation in the Armenian and Greek Genocides of early 20th centuries… But as American interests are put front and center by the Trump administration, it is likely that Turkey’s advances will be severely limited to a very small percentage of their illusionary “Blue Homeland” dream…

I will close these thoughts with a note of caution: As the Turkish leadership is squeezed between a set of adverse international interests and a sharply deteriorating economy, and as Erdogan’s political futures are waning, the risk of a war – at least until the November 3rd  American elections – is very real.  President Trump’s phone calls to both Mitsotakis and Erdogan this week were not enough to ameliorate Turkish aggression. In such a difficult and risky situation, Greeks have proven many times in their history that they can rise – more as individuals and small groups than as an organized government – to the occasion.  We are confident they will…  They have already impressed the message on the Turkish leadership that any military adventures will be very costly…

PS. We cannot understate the fact the Greece had assisted Egypt (during the military dictatorship government of Papadopoulos-Markezinis) in the Yom Kippur War of September 1973, drawing the ire of among many others, Henry Kissinger…  Now Greece, Egypt and Israel are aligned against Turkey… This fact alone should point any analysis to the right direction…

August 30, 2020, n.stamatakis@aol.com   www.helleniscope.com

 

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