Alexis Papachelas ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

Caution and prudence

COMMENT

TAGS: Diplomacy, Defense, US

What we need at this juncture of significant developments in the Eastern Mediterranean geopolitical landscape is caution – and more caution. Greece and Cyprus have so far played their cards well, but they should not get ahead of themselves. The messages coming from the United States and Israel are strong and positive. The initiatives undertaken by influential members of the US Congress have considerable impact and historical significance – particularly as Congress seeks to increase its leverage on foreign policy making. We should bear in mind, however, that these are only draft bills, which have yet to be adopted by the US State Department.

The standoff between Washington and Ankara regarding the delivery of the F-35 fighter jets could bring ties between the two NATO allies to boiling point, unless a compromise is reached. Meanwhile, the perception gaining ground in influential circles is that Greece (and, in part, Cyprus) could evolve into a front-line state and also substitute Turkey as far as American interests are concerned. In other words, officials are openly discussing whether the US could switch from Incirlik to a base in Greece. Meanwhile, a lot of progress is being made, often under the radar, in terms of Greek-American military cooperation. The question that will soon arise is whether Athens has what it takes to play this part, and what it must seek in return.

Washington is making moves. For example, US military vessels are for the first time sailing around the Dodecanese islands on a regular basis, while US aircraft participating in joint drills with Greece are flying in areas whose jurisdiction is challenged by Turkey. However, Athens can and must pursue other ambitious goals, including the transfer of a large part of F-16 production to Greece, to the supply of modern equipment on very good terms, if not for free.

However, we must not rush to any conclusions about the day after in the wider region. Even in Washington, East Med experts do not have a clear idea of how things will evolve. The more pressure Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan feels on a political and geopolitical level, the more dangerous the situation will become.

We have not done too badly so far, mainly because Athens’ stance has been consistent and not affected by domestic developments or confrontations. Meanwhile, a new generation of diaspora leaders know how to play the game and achieve results.

However, the current government cannot take the extra step following the departure of Panos Kammenos as defense minister and coalition partner, and the dominance of the SYRIZA core as elections loom. The next government will be called upon to make historic decisions. Until we get there, a good deal of prudence is advisable.

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