OPINION

Cool-headedness and caution

As if the threat of bankruptcy weren?t enough, fresh clouds are suddenly gathering over this country and the wider region. The crisis in relations between Turkey, Cyprus and Israel is significant and hides a series of dangers. Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to have abandoned the policy of smooth relations with all of Turkey?s neighbors. He has adopted an increasingly aggressive stance toward Israel and Cyprus, due to the upcoming search for what are rumored to be vast natural gas deposits. According to those with expert knowledge of Turkish reality, this is neither a recent development nor a media stunt.

For a while now, Turkish analysts have been observing Erdogan?s arrogant behavior: After becoming an all-powerful figure in Turkey, he now feels that he can behave like the local sovereign of the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as a leader for Muslim countries which have recently seen civil uprisings as a part of the Arab Spring.

At the same time it seems that the rupture in Turkish-Israeli relations is not just a temporary incident, but a profound and strategic conflict. For some time now, Israel has been trying to lure Greece into an alliance against Ankara, though Athens has been careful not to cross certain boundaries or endanger its ties with the Arab world for that matter.

In the coming weeks, however, a series of practical issues and dilemmas might arise, matters which will have to be addressed cool-headedly by Athens. What will happen, for instance, if Turkey tries to prevent the undersea drilling at the risk of conflict with Israel?s naval forces? One scenario is for Athens to avoid any kind of involvement, and consider that this is an issue that does not directly regard Greece. What is certain, however, is that politicians and the media, among others, will insist on Greece sending naval forces to the area as well. This will not be an easy decision to take, especially in the current political climate. There is another scenario, though, which revolves around Erdogan sending the Turkish fleet to the area around Kastellorizo, as a means of displaying his power throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. Obviously Turkey has been preparing the ground for such a move for a while now, otherwise it would be hard to explain the country?s obsession with sending ships and submarines on naval ?strolls? near Cape Sounio. It remains unclear how Athens would respond in such a situation.

Greek diplomats believe that there is no serious risk of embroilment, as the Americans and Europeans would step in and halt any type of dangerous escalation in time. No one, however, is in a position to say up to which point they would intervene or how easy it would be to stop Erdogan if he is set on stopping the drilling at whatever cost.

In any case, a great amount of composure and caution is required on Athens?s part. The danger of the discussion getting entangled in a political match between the government and New Democracy is obvious. Decisions will be hard to make because Greece will have to weigh its own interests, try not to get immersed in a risky venture on Israel?s account, as well as assess its partners? intentions and its own capabilities, given the empty state coffers. In the end, perhaps the sole advantage of a broader crisis would be for the Europeans and Americans to be persuaded to financially support Greece, as they do not wish to have a Western state collapsing against an aggressive Turkey, in an overall unstable geopolitical environment.