An end to our illusions

The fatal incident in the Aegean, which resulted in the death of Captain Costas Iliakis, is no ordinary incident of incursion by Turkish aircraft and their interception by Greek fighter jets – with a dramatic conclusion. Nor was it simply a «training flight in international air space in the Mediterranean» that was «buzzed» by Greek fighter jets, as was claimed in yesterday’s announcement by the Turkish Air Force Command. The composition of the Turkish flight – a reconnaissance RF-4, accompanied by two F-16s – its flight path and the fact that the Turkish pilot was armed create the clear impression that this was an operational mission to take aerial photographs of Greek military installations on Crete. The Turkish authorities’ claims are aimed at negating this impression in order to support the assertion that the Greek pilots overreacted and in international air space. Nevertheless, the Turks regularly attempt to carry out such missions, and the fatal incident simply brought the entire issue to the fore in the most dramatic way possible. It is clear that acts of this nature do not happen by order of a Turkish commander acting on his own. These decisions emanate from the highest level of the Turkish military leadership and form part of a broader policy. From that point of view, the collision of the two aircraft is still an open issue, not from a military viewpoint but a political one. The Greek government did not want to stir up public opinion and tried to avert an out-and-out crisis. In statements yesterday, Premier Costas Karamanlis directed a few warnings at Ankara. These are skillful and, from one point of view, correct actions, but essentially the incident should put an end to expectations that Turkey will change its attitude toward Greece because of its EU ambitions. Greece’s tolerance should be reconsidered. Turkey is a difficult neighbor and not friendly, as some might believe.