John M. Nomikos, director of the Research Institute for European and American Studies, spoke to participants in a June 5 Middle East Forum webinar to discuss Turkish threats to Greece.
Nomikos described a recent escalation of Turkish provocations against Greece that risk erupting into an armed confrontation. The Turkish Coast Guard has been sending illegal immigrants to flood the Greek islands and the Greek-Turkish border. Turkish intelligence officers have been infiltrating the municipality of Thrace near the Turkish-Greek border to “undermine covertly” the Greek Muslim community’s relationship with the Greek government and create unrest.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan has used the Turkish-Libyan Exclusive Economic Zone as cover to illegally encroach on the Greek island of Crete. The zone is the “biggest national security threat to the stability in the Mediterranean region, including Greece, said Nomikos. Erdoǧan announced his intention to begin drilling for oil in the eastern Mediterranean by the beginning of September.
Greece’s options in combatting Erdoǧan’s “cat and mouse” game of “no peace, no war” are limited. With a population of just 10 million – one eighth that of Turkey – and an economy heavily dependent on tourism revenue, a war would be economically devastating for Athens.
Exacerbating the situation is the neutral stance taken by the General Secretary of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), rather than demanding that Turkey cease its aggressive actions against a fellow member of NATO and respect the stability of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean.
Despite the fact that Greece has been a member of the European Union since 1981, the EU has also taken a position of neutrality, doing little to address Turkey’s aggression. The EU’s only priority is to avoid dealing with the illegal immigrants Erdoǧan is foisting on Greece, aside from sending “blackmail” money to Turkey to keep the migrants, including possible jihadists among them, from flooding into Europe. The humanitarian crisis is left for Greece to manage, but Europe would be wise to remember that “Greek borders are European borders,” said Nomikos.
Nomikos believes the only power with the clout to dissuade Erdoǧan from challenging Greece’s national security is the United States. Some important steps toward this end have been taken. The Trump administration’s support for the Eastern Mediterranean Energy Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019 authorizes new security assistance for Cyprus and Greece and lifts the U.S. arms embargo on Cyprus. It also authorizes the establishment of a United States-Eastern Mediterranean Energy Center to facilitate energy cooperation among the United States, Israel, Greece, and Cyprus as a tool for providing stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. With the potentially explosive situation between Turkey and Greece reaching a critical stage, the United States must go further in protecting its interests in the Mediterranean.
Given the world’s lukewarm response to Turkish aggression, Nomikos said it’s likely Erdoǧan will eventually start a war. “He’s looking for the right time, and he will attack Greece.” Accordingly, Nomikos strongly advocates a military alliance between Greece and Israel, which share “the same national security threat.” Israel, he said, is “the only country we can rely on.”
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.
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