The early months of 2020 will be tough for Greek-Turkish relations. The moment of truth seems to be upon us as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears determined to move ahead with his plans and to push Ankara’s territorial claims in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. It remains to be seen whether this will happen after a big spike in tension or not. It would not be safe to make any predictions at the moment.
Leftist opposition leader Alexis Tsipras made an apt remark a few days ago. Greece and Cyprus are both victims of their success, he said. Successive Greek governments after 2010 hammered out the triangular relationship with Israel and then with Egypt – and partially with the United States. They also played the energy card very well. The strategic planning was excellent and it yielded fruit.
Many observers, as well as this column, have warned that Athens needs to exercise restraint and have realistic expectations. In this light, Greek officials meeting with Israeli counterparts have often heard the cliche that “our cooperation is deep and it will deepen further, but in this part of the world no one fights somebody else’s war.”
Meanwhile, the geopolitical situation has changed. Erdogan has sidelined the Foreign Ministry and is in cahoots with the old deep state and the Grey Wolves apparatus. He is under pressure on the domestic front. US President Donald Trump gave him the green light to invade Syria and, at the same time, granted him the certainty that he is free to act as he pleases regardless of what the American deep state might say. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scared stiff of the Turkish strongman due to the migration issue. And Erdogan is on good terms with Moscow. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had a very strong opinion of the Turkish president, is in a tight spot and is not the one to make any decisions.
Erdogan could see that Greece and Cyprus’ gambit was paying off and that he would find himself faced with zones of influence and alliances that would effectively exclude Turkey from the Eastern Mediterranean. He weighed the situation at home and abroad and chose to respond in a forceful manner.
This is where we stand at the moment. We must too weigh our alliances, without looking for a savior. It is key that we avoid tension and inner friction.
As for the West – whether this concerns the US or Europe – it should have known that the moment of truth concerning its relationship with Greece would inevitably arise during a crisis with Turkey. It is the sort of situation where you find out who your real friends and allies are.