Alexis Papachelas ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

Strategic threat across the Aegean

COMMENT

Turkish artillery fires toward Syrian Kurdish positions in Afrin area, Syria, from Turkish side of the border in Hatay, Turkey, Friday.

TAGS: Turkey, Defense

As Greek society gets all passionate about issues like the Novartis bribery case or the “Macedonia” name dispute, it runs the risk of ignoring the long-standing strategic threat along its border.

Turkey is a big and volatile power, and recent developments suggest that it has entered a new phase. It is facing a deadlock in Syria and locked in constant confrontation with the United States and Europe. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shifted the battle for his political hegemony to the field of security. Many analysts are asking what the Turkish strongman will do if he realizes that the front he opened up against the Kurdish forces doesn’t result in an easy or swift victory. Greek officials say it should not be ruled out that Ankara will seek to open up a second front in the Aegean Sea or the Eastern Mediterranean region. On Friday, the commander of the Turkish armed forces, Hulusi Akar, said that Turkey has the capability to conduct military operations in Afrin and the Aegean at the same time. Athens has carved out its red lines. The basic one is that if Turkish soldiers land on an uninhabited Greek island in the Aegean, there will be an immediate response.

The danger of an escalation due to an accident in the air or at sea is always real. Traditional mediators have their own difficulties in communicating with Ankara at times of tension. US President Donald Trump is sending his national security adviser and his secretary of state to Ankara to salvage what they can from Turkish-American relations. It’s clear that at this stage the Americans have not written off Turkey and they will do everything they can not to lose it. This makes the current period both suspect and dangerous.

For their part, the Europeans are also facing difficulties with Turkey. Whoever still believes that Turkey’s European Union prospects are a true lever of pressure on Ankara must be living in a fantasy world. The Turks have realized that they will never become a proper EU member and are planning accordingly.

Greece and Turkey will continue playing cat and mouse around the Imia islets and all over the Aegean. Experienced officials in Athens know that the key is to avoid an uncontrollable escalation as a result of an accident or a complication or an embroilment.

One would hope that our political leader, would discuss, at least informally, this dangerous state of events through informal channels. Unfortunately, these channels do not exist, nor does the required trust, and the government is to blame for this. On the contrary, bridges are being burnt, and irreparably, while there is a lack of figures who could rise above the parties and the fray to unite and impose an elementary understanding.

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