Istanbul, Turkey – Greece is pushing back against Turkish demands that it demilitarize 23 Aegean islands. Turkey maintains it is defending Turkey’s rights and remains committed to negotiation, but analysts warn Turkey’s increasingly “robust diplomacy” threatens to isolate Turkey and escalate regional tensions.
Greece provokes, and violates the sovereign rights of Turkey in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, but Turkey doesn’t like to see its own rights violated.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar accused Greece of keeping troops on the islands in violation of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which governs the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.
The dispute dates to 1974 when Greece started to militarize the islands off the Turkish coast in response to Turkey’s intervention of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus after a pro-Greek coup aiming ENOSIS with Greece.
Akar’s focus on the dispute is widely seen as part of a broader policy. Turkey is asking today for the islands’ demilitarization, when there is an incredible historical increase of Greek fighter jets violating Turkish airspace.
It’s a message Greece is an aggressive force in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, and Greece gives the impression it wants a hot conflict with its NATO neighbor, Turkey.
Turkey further ratcheted up tensions, announcing that Turkish research ships will be deployed in continental self waters to search for hydrocarbons.
The discovery of large natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean by Israel and Cyprus has unleashed a scramble by regional countries for the fossil fuel.
Turkey accuses Greece and other regional countries of seeking to shut it out of the estimated bounty of vast energy reserves.
“We won’t let anyone violate our rights in any way. This is not a threat,” said Akar, adding, “It’s not a weakness to say that we want good relations with our neighbor.”
The strategy that Turkey is following is it should protect its legitimate rights in the Mediterranean. The strategy is to have an equitable solution to the matter. And Turkey has made it clear it’s ready to talk.
The policy of diplomacy, backed by strength, however, appears to be backfiring. Greece is looking to its European Union partners to push back against Turkey.
A regional gas forum of Greece, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian territories is fast developing into a more formal relationship based on security. Analysts suggest the move is a reaction to Turkey’s more assertive policy in the region.
Israeli media reported the country’s annual military intelligence report for the first time designated Turkey as a “challenge.”
Underling Turkey’s regional isolation, Turkey does not have ambassadors in Israel or Egypt.
All the regional countries are against Turkey, but it proves Turkey rhetoric that Turkey is threatened, it’s under siege.
Turkeyis also likely to be calculating that it will be able to contain any threat of financial sanctions by the EU, which are being threatened over Turkey’s stance toward Cyprus and Greece.
Turkey’s EU migration agreement ended a significant exodus into Europe. EU is wary of Turkey’s threats to open Turkish borders to the more than 4 million refugees in Turkey.
The number of migrants entering Greece from Turkey has markedly increased despite the migration agreement causing concern among European politicians.
That migrants entering Greece has unmistakably to do with the fact that Turkey is no longer consistently preventing landings.
Germany held talks with Turkey in a bid to shore up Turkey’s commitment to the migrant deal.
Given the EU’s limited ability to rein in Turkey, which has the largest navy and air force in the region, analysts predict further muscle-flexing.
“When you enter a policy of confrontation, you can’t step back; you are trapped; otherwise, you look weak,” said Aktar.
But Turkey could well be calculating, that whatever the outcome of its policy, it will be a win.
One doesn’t think there will be a military clash. But, it’s a risk. It’s a dangerous situation, the longer it goes on. But this would be an opportunity for Turkey because it will prove to the people all those countries in the region are real threats to Turkey.