The Turks may be baiting us but we have no reason to bite. That is unless we want to get involved in a military incident.
What is happening at the moment is extremely dangerous and the Greek armed forces have entered a prolonged and unprecedented state of constant vigilance. Apart from any costs incurred, the incessant tension and the general climate of unease can easily lead either to an accidental ocurrence or Greece taking the Turkish bait.
As we know from the experience of Imia in 1996, the most important thing is for us to know exactly what we are doing. In other words, Greece needs to send clear and non-contradictory messages to the other side. International experience has shown that some of the greatest tragedies were the result of bad or vague communication.
Another key factor is that the main people dealing with the issue – the entire leadership – must be on the same page. The case of Imia showed that when one or more of the people dealing with the crisis have their own agenda, it won’t take long for a mishap to occur. When the person who has the final say comes up against disunity and obstacles, he obviously cannot surmount such an obstacle by simply ordering all sides to get on the same page. Security is a sensitive area that requires clear-cut orders and communication. Urging people to “figure it out” is more befitting to political party gatherings.
Further, it must be clear who is giving the orders to escalate or de-escalate a situation in real time when something serious happens. There is no margin for error or for lack of clarity. A single minute or a decision that seems insignificant could prove fatal. We (supposedly) learned this with Imia. Public opinion, meanwhile, must be informed candidly and without hyperbole of the real facts – to the degree that this is feasible. The role of a responsible media is key.
Last but not least, the country’s president and opposition leaders need to be fully briefed so as to have a clear picture of the situation.
Greece has entered a difficult and dangerous period. Traditionally, we are below par when it comes to handling crises at the institutional level. In a normal country, the prime minister, relevant ministers, and the heads of the military and intelligence services would sit daily around a table, examine developments and hammer out a course of action.
I think it’s high time that we realize the gravity of the circumstances and leave the casual approach to matters of secondary importance.