A report published on March 28, 1897 in Empros newspaper referred to a foreign diplomat who described Greeks’ behavior in relation to Turkey as that of a dog that barks, but does not bite. We all know what followed, but we still tend to forget how bad it is in international affairs when you bark, but no one really feels any threat.
Public debate around security issues is dominated by maximalist voices. Perhaps this is closer to our mentality. But when things get tough, we logically begin to back down, while trying to establish who is at fault for the fact that our theories are not backed up by uncomfortable facts. For example, we get all grumpy about the role of the United Nations, the European Union or NATO. But the fact is, in cases where tensions broke out between Greece and Turkey, these organizations never really offered anything more than carefully worded statements. Similarly, we fail to see that certain toothless statements of solidarity are really worth no more than the remarks made by certain European officials who saw a coup in the reaction of eurozone officials to the demands of ex-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.
Greece is in a very difficult conjuncture. Turkey is escalating tension in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, possibly because its Syria operation does not seem to be making progress. Meanwhile, Ankara is trying to induct Block 3 of Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone into its so-called “gray areas,” thereby also sending a message to other governments and firms over other areas. If Ankara succeeds in this, it will mark a clear defeat and make it very difficult to proceed with the explorations. For the time being, there are a lot of intense backroom developments and intransigence from Ankara.
The show around the Imia islets will continue. A fresh incident is around the corner. Experienced Greek officials say that de-escalation will not last for long and predict that Ankara will make tactical moves aimed at re-escalation. Kastellorizo also remains a key issue.
Athens must be very careful in weighing its next moves. It’s a balance of terror. If it shows compliancy, one can’t be certain where the other side will stop. If it chooses to respond to the provocation, another incident and further escalation will be unavoidable and the consequences of this will be unpredictable.
Very few people know what is at stake and can safely speculate about the real intentions of major international players. Greek-Turkish relations have so far thankfully stayed clear of emotional reactions and circumstances for which we paid a dear price in the past. The opposition is maintaining a responsible stance. We will all need a cool head and prudence to emerge from this unscathed. Perhaps also some basic level of consensus.