In the next three months we must try to avoid a Greek-Turkish “incident.” No one can predict what sort of incident that might be, unless it is preempted by some major event. Turkey tends to make good on its public statements, which means we should expect to see Turkish exploratory drilling in an area close to Crete or Kastellorizo by September.
Several Greek analysts thought Ankara would first test the waters by carrying out a drill in a more distant area that would not be seen as such a provocation by Greece. This however appears to be the moment of truth for Ankara. It is no longer willing to rely on informal confidential channels of communication; no one is picking up the phone across the Aegean. The aim is a full-fledged negotiation, before or after a crisis.
Greece’s partners are naturally worried. They are sending signals on all levels. They want to make sure Athens is not the first to “press the button” and are urging it against militarizing the crisis. Officials in Berlin and Brussels are particularly worried of late. The deep state in Washington is worried but this is an extremely risky period and in a way reminiscent of the summer of 1974 due to the political turmoil. It’s hard to say who is calling the shots and, of course, no one knows how Trump would react in the event of a Greek-Turkish incident ahead of the November election.
In the midst of all that, Athens must follow a carefully designed strategy, sending out negative as well as positive signals in a very clear manner. The former must come in the form of red lines whose violation would invite a real response from Greece. Such signals are not to be conveyed by verbose politicians; no one will pay heed to yet another “loud message to Ankara.” Such signals must be sent silently, away from the TV cameras, by government officials and military leaders.
When it comes to Greek-Turkish issues, the government often sounds like a band that is out of tune. Keeping mum maybe the safest option.
The prime minister is already conveying the necessary signals to Berlin, Brussels and – to the extent this is possible – to Washington. He is doing so in a restrained albeit straightforward manner.
Perhaps it’s time Greece proved it takes national security seriously: Introduce compulsory military service at the age of 18, put emphasis on military industry, establish a real Council of National Security, abolish idiotic procedures for emergency arms procurements, reorganize the Hellenic Armed Forces without accounting for the political cost. All that requires time, but a start can be made right away.
Τhe positive messages must concern a well-prepared formula that would lead to the beginning of exploratory contacts and a temporary moratorium in certain areas. For that to happen, Athens and Nicosia need to flash their cards and hammer out a common strategy.
The coming weeks will be crucial. We will need to have a clear mind, know what to expect and from whom at the crucial moment, to read the signals from all players without giving in to deceptions, and also send out our own signals away from the cameras. Before making any military decisions, it would be better to give an opportunity to silent, behind-the-scenes diplomacy.