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Ελλάδα, ΗΠΑ, Τουρκία: Το αίνιγμα της Αν. Μεσογείου – Ερωτήσεις και Απαντήσεις

Eastern Med Conundrum

(RIEAS Academic Advisor)
Turkish belligerence in the East Med is going through yet
another spasm of loud sabre rattling and threats of military action. Are we on
the throes of an aggressive war in the Aegean aiming at grabbing Greek
territory and forcing a “solution” of what Ankara perceives as a “violation of
Turkish inalienable rights?” How should Greece react?
History tells us
that when a habitual aggressor, like Turkey, goes into yet another round of
ranting and raving about “inalienable rights” it is either confident it can win
or almost certain it is losing.  Hitler
in the 1930s correctly estimated the cowardice of Britain and France that allowed
him to achieve spectacular territorial advantages without firing a single shot.
In contrast, president-for-life Erdogan of the 2000s finds himself surrounded
by intractable crises, most of his own making, and with minimal space for
effective maneuver.

Greece is not at
its best but, for the first time, it is a party to a coalition of states
opposed to Turkish expansionism. The East Mediterranean Partnership (EMP),
bringing together Greece, Israel, and the Republic of Cyrus, is at an advanced
stage of development–and has won open US endorsement after US Secretary of
State Mike Pompeo
attended the latest EMP summit meeting in
Jerusalem on March 20, 2019. Egypt is also reaching a common understanding with
the EMP states, as its geopolitical and energy interests coincide with those of
the EMP partners.

Erdogan’s Islamic hegemonism, grandiose neo-Ottoman dreams, and his ruining of the Turkish economy has pushed Turkey
to a geostrategic corner. The Turkish strongman carries his current desperate
flirting with Russia, Iran, and China from a position of noticeable strategic
weakness. Any pragmatist can see that, despite Erdogan’s delusional ranting and
raving, Turkey can ill afford to disassociate itself from Europe and the US.
Reverting to a state of “Moslem orthodoxy” will isolate Turkey from the
civilized world and irreversibly damage its hopes for the future. Erdogan and
his Moslem fundamentalists though refuse to accept reality.
purchase of the Soviet S-400 missile system by Turkey has led to an
unprecedented American backlash. US Congress reaction has been severe, creating
the impression that, at long last, Turkey was about to collect its dues for its
persistent aggression and expansionism. Yet, despite the US outcry, President
Trump is planning to visit Turkey soon. What is going on?
Pro-Turkism has
deep roots in most Western countries because of distant and most recent
history. Pro-Turkish lobbies in Washington and other Western capitals have
suffered defeats in recent times, but they remain active and well-funded.
NATO’s ambivalent and often contradictory policies in avoiding to chastise
Turkey as it should continue to fuel Turkey’s belief it is an irreplaceable
asset to the West.
Trump’s unique, and often baffling, decision-making style makes US policies
toward Turkey even more complicated and unpredictable. Ankara discovered, for
example, it was dealing with an unusual, to say the least, interlocutor in the
White House when it was forced to beat a hasty retreat in the case of an
American pastor imprisoned in Turkey on outlandish charges of terrorism.
meddling in Syria has also collided with US opposition which Ankara has been
unable to counter. Ankara’s recent S-400 ploy has resulted in US pressures on
the Turkish regime to deliver an alternative “arrangement” regarding this
aspect of its Putinesque love affair that will satisfy both the US Congress and
the NATO alliance.
Trump’s still unannounced plan to visit Turkey should be seen as a continuation
of American pressures on Turkey to tone down its bluster if it wants “normal”
relations with the US and, by extension, with the Western alliance.
The visit should
not be conceived as somehow legitimizing Erdogan’s demands upon Turkey’s
neighbors or approval of Turkish expansionist plans, especially in Syria,
simply because vital US strategic interests are at stake and the mood in
Washington regarding Turkey is the worst ever.
relationship with the Turkish strongman is hardly harmonious. During Erdogan’s
visit to Washington in May 2017 his bodyguards attacked peaceful American
protesters sending many to hospital. The US indicted the attackers but later
dropped the charges. Still, the brawl badly damaged relations between the two
countries. Tensions further increased when in January 2019 Trump vowed to “devastate Turkey economically” if
Turkish forces attacked US-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria. Thus, right now,
it should be obvious US-Turkey relations are “worse off than you think … and easy fixes won’t cut it.”
A Trump visit to Turkey at this time should be seen as an effort to reiterate
vital US strategic interests are at stake and the mood in Washington regarding
Turkey is the worst ever.
Could this visit, if it is realized, affect the growing US plans
to increase American military presence in Greece?
The state of
affairs in the Eastern Med and, particularly, in Syria, leaves little room for
any sudden changes in the developing the evolving US-Greek strategic dialogue.
Turkey’s action in Syria, and Ankara siding with anti-Assad Islamist
terrorists, was the straw that broke the (Turkish) camel’s back in American
eyes. Erdogan’s wretched hostility toward Israel added a grinding stone to the
weight of that straw: in March 2018 a Turkish paper closely identified with the
Turkish president-for-life declared that Turkey desired to lead an “Army of
Islam,” drawn from the 57 member countries of the Organization of Islamic
Cooperation, to destroy Israel militarily in 10 days and
liberate “Palestine.” This news did not please Washington.
Against this
background, the Pentagon is increasing its strategic and operational options in
the Eastern Mediterranean by shifting its focus to Greece. In the words of Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the US
Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)
: “If you look at geography, and you look
at current operations in Syria, you look at potential other operations in the
eastern Mediterranean, the geography of Greece and the opportunities here are
pretty significant.”
interest focuses on the Larissa air force base as a potential home for KC-135
tankers in addition to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) already operating out of
this central Greece facility. Expanding US air surveillance out of Larissa, by
bringing into service the latest UAV models available, can put US assets over
Syria, the Black Sea, and Northern Africa on permanent routine rotation.
Another sector
for cooperation is the expansion of US naval presence via basing rights in
northern Greek ports in addition to the Souda Bay US Naval Station in Crete.
Northern Greece deployments would put the US Navy within earshot of the exit of
the Dardanelles, only egress for the Russian navy into the “warm waters” of the
These purely
military moves acquire a high degree of potential permanence as Washington
shifts its weight in favor of the EMP which, for better or for worse, is a
thinly-veiled alliance against Turkish expansionism and aggression. And to add
further to Turkish discomfort, US energy giants like Exxon Mobile are present
in Cypriot waters to expand drilling, and eventually begin pumping, brushing
aside Turkish verbal threats of naval action to prevent their activities.
How can Greece leverage all this positive news to build decisive
deterrence vis-à-vis Erdogan’s burgeoning threats?
First and
foremost, Greece must accelerate talks on the expansion of US military presence
and offer Washington all possible accommodation in support of US forces. Initial proposals are already on the table and
the next conservative government, following the widely expected defeat of the
SYRIZA radical leftists in the upcoming general election, must pursue talks on
the matter as its very top priority. Expansion of basing rights should be
coupled with negotiating closer
operational cooperation between Greek and US forces,
something that has
been rejected by Greek governments in the past for fear of a leftist political
backlash. Regular training exercises, and development of a common response to
crisis scenaria centered on a potential Turkish thrust in the Aegean, should
constitute the core of this expanded cooperation. The ultimate aim would be
building an active deterrence “allied
wall of confidence”
vis-à-vis any Turkish attempt to launch an adventurist
war of aggression in the Aegean. 
What would be the role of the Eastern Mediterranean Partnership
in any such expanded Greece-US defense cooperation?
The role of the
EMP is critical in providing permanent anchoring to any expanded US military
presence in the Eastern Mediterranean via the special US-Israel strategic
relationship. The EMP takes this already established special relationship to
the next level and that is a critical “power multiplier” affecting both Greece
and Cyprus.
The EMP partners
are already working on closer defense ties. The Israeli Air Force trains in
Greek air space in close cooperation with the Hellenic Air Force. Israeli
pilots, flying over Greek territory, conduct combat and air refueling exercises
that were difficult to conduct in the past for lack of space. These drills aim
to improve Israel’s readiness for long-range missions. The three partners also
conduct common special forces and commando training exercises.
Erdogan, however, has announced Turkey will drill for gas inside
the Cypriot EEZ. Isn’t this proof of unusual confidence vis-à-vis what Ankara
perceives as “anti-Turkish” international reactions?
anything, this latest hostile and provocative antic is proof of the increasing frustration of the Turkish
Islamist regime because of its inability to control the strategic situation
according to its outlandish theories on Turkey’s claimed sea Lebensraum. Turkey is in the process of
a Hail Mary pass as regional and US opposition to its expansionism solidifies
in no uncertain ways. And to add to Erdogan’s troubles, Ankara’s drilling
announcement drew an unusual reaction from EU Foreign Minister
Federica Mogherini, who warned Turkey to expect a response “in full solidarity”
with Cyprus.
The current
Turkish provocation is reminiscent of similar Turkish threats, leveled at ExxonMobil in 2018,
which came to nothing thanks to solid opposition to Ankara’s saber rattling
that included a quiet increase of US naval presence in the vicinity. And Ankara
should keep in mind what happened when it deployed its warships to stop an
Italian research vessel from drilling in Cypriot waters in March 2018. Although
the Italians backed down in the face of this blatant threat the US reaction was
sharp and unequivocal. Referring to the Italian incident the then US Assistant
Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell warned that the US would “not take a friendly
view to any kind of harassment in Cyprus waters especially when US ships are
involved.” And referring to the EMP, Mitchell added that “Greece, Cyprus and
Israel are very important countries for the US because they are stable,
democratic, western allies in a region where you don’t find a lot of stable,
democratic partners.”
In conclusion,
the Turkish president-for-life faces insurmountable odds: the Turkish economy
is tanking and Turks who can leave the country do so “…in droves, draining money and talent.” Despite
enormous investment in exploration and drilling technologies Turkish efforts so
far have had no success whatsoever. Waters around Turkey are being parceled out
faster than Ankara can say “I object” and it is becoming obvious by the day
Turkey must negotiate if it really wants a portion of the enormous natural gas
bonanza. Turkish energy needs depend exclusively on imports and any military
adventurism can deal incalculable damage to the country’s ability to get
regular supplies delivered.
Turkish bullying
won’t stop of course but it is becoming increasingly evident that
Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman dreams have become ticking bombs threatening Turkey’s
long-term political stability and strategic security—and the recent resounding
defeat of Erdogan’s Islamist party in Turkey’s local elections is an
unmistakable harbinger of how Turkish politics may be turning into mass
opposition to the neo-sultan’s authoritarianism.
The Turkish
Islamist ultranationalists may still believe they have strong cards to play in
the Eastern Med melee but the odds of the card game keep growing in the exact
opposite direction. 

Copyright: Research Institute for European and American Studies ( Publication date: 5 May 2019
Note: The article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of the
Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS).

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