Do you think there will be a war?” people have been asking recently. Rumors or facts about updates to various emergency plans have dominated conversations around the country. The spread of such talk is damaging. The Greek economy is experiencing a fragile upswing and the tourism industry is very vulnerable to uncertainty. It requires self-restraint on the part of politicians, the media and state officials to prevent this mood of concern from ballooning. It is crucial to control and coordinate any reaction so that state agencies avoid acts that are unnecessary or that could spread concern for no real reason.
To be sure, we have entered a very difficult phase. Many risks lurk as Turkey moves closer to presidential elections. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has no qualms about playing the nationalism card. The Turkish opposition has adopted a similar line, concentrating its criticism on Greece and Cyprus. The rhetoric is constantly escalating. The arrest of the two Greek soldiers who accidentally crossed the border in early March has turned up the heat.
But we need to be clear about the following: No one, inside or outside Greece, has any specific information regarding an imminent Turkish operation in the Aegean. This is what Greek officials who have a more informed picture of the situation confirm. That said, the possibility of an accident is something that cannot be ruled out entirely. One does not have to be an expert to understand that.
Engagement in the air and at sea always entails the risk of an accident. A collision of fighter jets or even a maneuver by a dinghy that is misunderstood can lead to an escalation. Even more so given the fact that Turkey has had to rely on inexperienced servicemen or veterans who were called back to duty after Erdogan’s purge of the army in the wake of the attempted putsch.
The key, in the case of an accident, is that the two sides establish immediate communication, and exchange quick and clear messages so as to avoid an automatic escalation. That was after all the big lesson from the 1996 Imia crisis, which escalated without anyone really knowing how or why. We have to be prepared on an operational, psychological and diplomatic level to deal with the worst-case scenario.
Erdogan’s megalomania and the current state of affairs justify concern and mandate vigilance. But we must be wary of falling into the trap of a self-fulfilling prophecy which could cause huge damage. Greeks are by nature vulnerable to rumors and hyperbole. The phase we are in requires cool heads and quiet determination.