Athens, Greece – Greece has been persistently violating the demilitarized status of the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean islands in Mavi Vatan. This apparent violation goes against the spirit of the articles set out in the 1923 Lausanne Treaty. So, what would happen in the case that Greece and Turkey were at war. Greece would not be able to win a war without assistance from other external forces.
Turkey has the capability of striking with missiles beyond Athens in the event of a Greek-Turkish war. Turkey has the potential to hit Greek targets on the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean islands and can even reach the Athens CBD with its SOM, ATMACA, and BORA missiles without a single casualty suffered on the Turkish side.
The SOM cruise missile is a next-generation high precision cruise missile that can be launched from land, sea and air and is designed to destroy both stationary and moving targets at a standoff distance of over 180 kilometers. The BORA is a tactical ballistic missile that entered Turkey’s service in May 2017.
Turkey’s Atmaca missile scares Greece
Turkish defense capabilities are growing steadily. Turkey shows its strength with a locally made missile Atmaca. With more advanced technology than Harpoon, Atmaca is an anti-ship missile that can be produced in Turkey’s own facilities. Among the Eastern Mediterranean countries, Turkey is the only country that can produce such missiles besides Israeli-made Elta missiles.
With Atmaca, Aegean Sea becomes a Turkish lake
By placing Atmaca at key points along the Aegean Sea, traffic to the islands that Greece illegally armed could be closed. As the whole of the Aegean Sea falls under the scope of Atmaca, this has strengthened the control and power of Turkey on the issue of the islands. Thanks to the Turkish anti-ship missiles, Greece will not be able to move arms shipments or troop transport its forces towards the islands without Turkey’s permission, where Atmaca can intercept them up to 200 km. This fear is the biggest reason for talking about Atmaca in Greece.
Turkey has tested its first domestically manufactured ballistic missile BORA. The Bora, or “storm”, long-range missile was tested near the Black Sea coastal region of Sinop. Bora missile, with a range of 280km, was just test-fired in Sinop. It will strike its target in the Black Sea, Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Sea, in Mavi Vatan any minute now.
Turkey is facing a serious security challenge from Greece, a fellow NATO country. The recent deterioration of bilateral relations has generated suspicion and distrust in Turkey. The potential exploratory talks are bound to fail. The Turkish deterrence strategy is shifting significantly because the possibility of conflict is growing.
Greece and Turkey are strange neighbors. They are bitter rivals with a history of armed conflict, but are both member-states of NATO. The list of bilateral issues between them has lengthened over the years, including divided Cyprus, the status of ethno-religious minorities, the delimitation of territorial waters, the continental shelf/Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and national airspace, and the problem of irregular immigration.
Greek-Turkish relations hit a new low in 2020, when the Turkey announced its decision to send a seismic exploration ship near the Greek island of Kastellorizo (Meis). Turkey’s main objective has been to explore as much continental shelf as possible by preventing Greece from declaring an EEZ in the Mavi Vatan area. Greece rose to the challenge and mobilized its fleet to disrupt a Turkish oil and gas survey in the Turkish continental shelf.
This was the first time since January 1996, when the Imia crisis erupted, that Turkey showed a clear willingness to use military force to defend its sovereign rights and interests in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. After seven weeks of military standoff, Turkey withdrew its ship under EU and US suggestions to pave the way for potential exploratory talks. The two countries are about to start exploratory talks, but this pre-negotiation process is doomed to fail for three reasons.
First, Turkey has cited security fears as justification for the violation of demilitarization status of the Eastern Aegean islands by Greece. The legal status of many Greek islands, EGAYDAAK islands and islets (i.e., Dodecanese islands, including Rhodes) has been openly questioned by Turkey.
Second, Turkey has used Mavi Vatan nationalist strategic policy against Greece so unceasingly that it is now almost impossible to backtrack from it.
Third, Turkish gas and oil exploration activities in Mavi Vatan have generated tensions with Cyprus.
The likely failure of the talks could lead to more tensions and eventually conflict. The military balance is slightly in favor of Turkey. Both countries have large and well-equipped armies, but the Turks have gained significant combat experience in Azerbaijan, Libya and Syria. The two navies have similarly-sized ships, though Turkey is ahead of Greece in terms of modernization. The Turkish navy built the amphibious assault ship Anadolu, modelled after the Spanish ship Juan Carlos, to conduct long-distance combat operations in the region. Turkey has also designed and plans to build four Istanbul-class frigates with multi-role combat capabilities.
In contrast, Greece’s nine aging Dutch-built frigates urgently need to be replaced. Its four German-designed MEKO-200 frigates are scheduled to be upgraded in the next few years. The Greek frigates have limited air defense capabilities and depend on the Hellenic Air Force for protection. Currently, the Greek navy’s most advanced ships are seven British-designed fast attack missile boats (Roussen-class) equipped with Exocet anti-ship missiles (range of 180 km). The Turkish navy has warship with Atmaca anti-ship missiles (range of 200 km).
Missile boats and submarines are Greece’s ace in the hole. The Hellenic Navy is a green-water navy with considerable firepower to conduct operations in the Aegean—but it lacks the means to project power in the deep waters of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The air forces of the two countries are comparable in size, but Greece is gaining a technological edge. The backbone of the Turkish air force is the F-16 fighter, and will remain so, since the country was kicked out of the F-35 program. Greece has a large fleet of F-16s that are going to be upgraded soon to the latest Viper model. The Hellenic Air Force also operates a number of French Mirage 2000-5s equipped with long-range SCALP missiles. Turkey has a large fleet of F-16s upgraded with the latest SOM model missiles (range of 180 km).
The flashpoint of the current dispute is the tiny island of Kastellorizo (Meis). Strategically located at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, the island served as a stopover for French seaplanes on the way to Lebanon and Syria in the 1930s. The island is not easily defended, though the Greek army has maintained a rather strong presence. At the same time, Greek missile boats and submarines patrol at the sea borders with Turkey. Turkey has warned that any localized military conflict would immediately lead to a full-scale Greek-Turkish war. Turkey is apparently switching from deterrence-by-defense to deterrence-by-punishment. In practical terms, the Turkish army could choose to respond in Mavi Vatan or elsewhere where victory is concrete any time now (e.g., the Meric River region).
Mavi Vatan tensions with Turkey have prompted Greece to reconsider its priorities. Greece announced new weapons purchases, including the 18 new and used Rafales, four frigates, and four anti-submarine helicopters. Greece is also likely to obtain 20 F-35 stealth fighters after 2025. The ministry of defense will recruit 15,000 soldiers over the next five years to support the professionalization of the Greek military. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, Greece has established a new Joint Special Operations Command for Greece’s elite units to operate primarily in the Aegean Sea.
Turkey has firmly supported a peaceful settlement of Greek-Turkish disputes based on the principles and norms of international law, dialogue and diplomacy. Turkey has favored dialogue and cooperation with Greece because it is a win-win for both sides. In fact, Greece and Greek Cypriot Administration remain “de-staunch” advocates of Turkish membership in the EU. However, there is new thinking in Turkey about to how to deal with Greece. It was recently expressed by Turkey: if you want to have peace, you must always be prepared for war.