OPINION

Turkish aggression

“I see no danger whatsoever for the time being,» said Greece’s Minister of Defense Yiannos Papantoniou yesterday, commenting on Turkey’s growing aggressiveness in the Aegean Sea, under the shadow of the unprecedented provocation during a Greek military exercise – which prompted strong representations to various international institutions. Ankara’s stance merely «causes concerns,» Papantoniou added, a week after he said in a television interview that Ankara may try to cause a «hot incident.» One can understand Papantoniou’s effort to downplay the significance of this ballooning problem for obvious politically expedient reasons aimed at sustaining the government’s policy of rapprochement with Turkey. But it is hard not to notice that Greece’s peaceful political rhetoric is a far cry from the dangerously aggressive demeanor of our eastern neighbor. Figures are inexorable as they reveal a precipitous rise in the frequency of military provocations in peace time. The number of air space violations skyrocketed from 440 in the year 2000 to an incredible 3,200 during last year. What is more, they are expected to exceed that number this year, as we have already had 1,530 such incidents. The number of simulated dogfights were down to a moderate 30 during 2000 but 2002 saw more than a 1,000 cases. Mock battles this year have numberd 450 so far. Similarly, the incursions into the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) by armed Turkish aircraft rose from 80 in 2002 to 1,050 during 2002. We cannot afford to stay passive in the face of this worsening situation. Greece’s complaints to the EU, NATO and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) have to be intensified. In fact, had Athens not followed this policy of appeasement with Ankara – which effectively conceals the seriousness of the provocations – the domestic climate toward Turkey would be far more adverse. The government must decide whether its Ankara policy actually helps promote Greece’s national interests. Turkey’s aggressiveness over the Aegean Sea, coupled with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s alignment with Greek-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash on the Cyprus dispute, are anything but encouraging.