OPINION

Revisiting the Imia crisis

It has been almost 15 years since the Imia crisis in the southeast Aegean and some things have changed while others have not. What has changed is the Greek military, because the crisis exposed that the Greek military, especially the army and air force, were inadequately prepared for the contingency. The army and air force were organized and equipped to fight the Cold War and found themselves almost unable to defend the Aegean adequately against a possible Turkish attack. The army has added new organization and doctrine as well as new tanks, howitzers, rocket launchers, and attack helicopters to deal with the different security needs, while the air force has added over 140 new fighters, Patriot missiles, and airborne early warning capability to close the huge numerical and technical gap Turkey had built in the air in the 1990s. What has not changed is the fact that with Turkey’s significant military advantage held at the time of the crisis in 1996, war did not come. In the same way that Saddam Hussein did not strike Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states in the late summer and early autumn of 1990 when he held a huge strategic advantage, Turkey did not strike in the Aegean in the winter of 1996 because they did not intend to do so. Regardless of the reason, whether it was the lack of preparation, the spontaneity of the crisis, or arm-twisting by the United States, Turkey had the military balance advantage and still did not strike. So, if they did not strike then, when the advantage was theirs, they will not strike now, with a more formidably prepared Greek military, the PKK insurgency still tying down most of the Turkish army, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisting that Turkey wants peace with all its neighbors, and the Turkish economy continuing to enjoy growth and prosperity. Greece is in a better position than it believes itself to be in regarding the Aegean, and with a struggling economy and the prospect of 40 million barrels of oil per year being pumped into the economy, the stakes are even higher. So the Greek government should begin to act with more confidence and strength instead of trepidation and fear. After all, the territories of the Aegean in Greek hands are legal and Turkey has no legitimate claim.