NATO Works hard to avoid a Turkish-Greek clash

Though there was a Greek reaction, with NATO stepping in, those expecting war in the East Med were let down.
Though there was a Greek reaction, with NATO stepping in, those expecting war in the East Med were let down. Erdoğan stated that he would talk to any side but Southern Cyprus. (Photo: NATO)

It was obvious from day one that the Turkish-Greek crisis in the East Mediterranean would not turn into a war.

Not because of the strong statements by the European Union (EU) threatening Turkey with sanctions. The EU has long lost political leverage over Turkey, and mainly due to Cyprus. However, whether you like it or not Turkey holds a migration card to play that could disturb European politics. Secondly, Turkey is not an EU member. That is why the “mediation” initiative of German Chancellor Angela Merkel – at least at this stage – has not worked since she expressed full EU support for Greece after the Berlin meeting on Aug 27-28.

From the very beginning, it was obvious that the tension could only be eliminated on NATO grounds where both Greece and Turkey are members. The NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that his August 3rd initiative for technical talks has not yielded any result yet but that NATO would continue to work hard. 

The stubbornness of Athens 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu accused Greece of rejecting the dialogue, and France of provoking Greece against Turkey. Çavuşoğlu said that the Turkish response to NATO was positive with no pre-conditions.

But it seems Greece has a pre-condition. It wants the withdrawal of Turkish ships from the disputed waters, which is the topic to be discussed. The last tension has occurred when Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis declared a 40 thousand sq. km. economic zone for the tiny island of Kastellorizo, or Meis as Turks call it. The island is 2 km from the Turkish coast and 580 to the Greek mainland. To Ankara, the aim was to trap Turkey (which has the longest coast to the Mediterranean) to a narrow shoreline. The gas exploration debate was also up when Alexis Tsipras was in power. It did not turn into a crisis though.

Recently, internationally renowned Greek lawyer Christos Rozakis said on a TV show that Greece might not win the Kastellorizo case if it goes to the International Court of Justice. He then lost his positions at Athens University and the Foreign Ministry. It seems Moussaka and tzatziki are not the only similar things on both sides of the Aegean.

NATO and the U.S.

There is another factor. It was the U.S. the leading NATO power who took Turkey and Greece in 1952 together into NATO to counter the threat from Moscow. The U.S. had thought Turkey was bluffing regarding Cyprus in 1974. It then took some lessons out of it and intervened at the right time to the Kardak/Imia islets crisis in 1996 between Turkey and Greece. During the ongoing tension, the 6th Fleet of the USA in the Mediterranean was already giving the message “I am here” to both Ankara and Athens. It was exercising with the Turkish navy one day and the Greek navy the next day.

On the same day that Stoltenberg made his point, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan’s Chief Security and Foreign Policy Adviser İbrahim Kalin had a telephone conversation with US President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brian on the same issue. It was then announced in Ankara that Erdoğan held a video conference with Merkel. Erdoğan’s statement has disillusioned the warmongering TV commentators, but it was already clear that the tension would de-escalate.

Are Israel and Egypt included?

Following those developments, the Turkish media reported that Erdogan told his team that “We can sit at the table with everyone except Southern Cyprus” on the Eastern Mediterranean issue. Let’s leave Syria aside; it is in the Eastern Mediterranean but not a player for the time being. But Israel and Egypt are not like that, they are both active players. Ankara has bad relations with both. Erdoğan doesn’t like their leaders and their leaders don’t like Erdogan. Both have good relations with the United Arab Emirates, which Turkey thinks is behind every anti-Turkish affair in the Middle-East.

On the other hand, Çavuşoğlu has suggested an international conference for the East Med disputes.

The question is: Does Erdogan’s statement, “everyone except the Greek Cypriot Government” include Israel and Egypt? If so, we may witness serious changes in foreign policy. Propaganda officials, then, will have to find other subjects for those warmongers.


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