Turkey Ramps up Tension Across the Eastern Mediterranean



Greek Defense Minister Evangelos Apostolakis and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar in a previous meeting (File photo)

Ankara continues its aggressive behavior in the eastern Mediterranean, demanding a piece of the hydrocarbon pie inside Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone, while at the same time the defense ministers of Greece and Turkey discussed confidence-building measures.

The meeting between Evangelos Apostolakis and Hulusi Akar in Brussels appears to be mostly for show, as Turkish warplanes were parading over the Aegean during the talks. The repeated provocations in Greek airspace show that warnings from the EU regarding sanctions against Turkey fall on deaf ears.

The same applies to the warnings coming from the other side of the Atlantic, with the U.S. asking Turkey to stop its aggressive behavior in the Aegean. Nevertheless, Ankara’s provocations become more and more blatant, showing total fearlessness to the stern warnings that come from the U.S. and the European Union.

The sought-after hydrocarbons

It seems that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to counterbalance his defeat in last Sunday’s municipal elections in Istanbul by appearing more patriotic and more aggressive in the Aegean. It is obvious that he needs some kind of victory, and believes that bringing the Turkish people hydrocarbons from the eastern Mediterranean would make them happy. Let’s keep in mind that the Turkish economy is plummeting.

The large presence of Turkish Armed Forces in the Aegean and the Mediterranean has Greece’s army command on red alert. Several Turkish fighter jets enter Greek airspace on a daily basis, discreetly chased away by Greek Air Force pilots.

According to a Hellas Journal report, top Greek armed forces officials worry about the persistence of the Turkish provocations, certain that the purpose of the flights inside Greek airspace aims at forcing the Greek pilots to make that mistake of the moment.

The whole behavior of the neighboring country has brought the Greek Armed Forces to an increased state of alert for a long time now. Greek pilots are warned by their higher-ups to avoid any kind of reaction that would light up the fuse. Any kind of attack should be avoided so not to give Turkey the opportunity to say that any kind of engagement started from the Greek side.

Greek and Turkish armed forces

According to Hellas Journal, a top Greek army official said that Greek pilots have been given the order to never act aggressively and that the stance of Greece in regards to the Turkish provocations has always been defensive.

The report says that as time goes by, Turkish pilots add flight time in their records and become more and more experienced. At the same time, Turkey’s warplane fleet is expanding rapidly and outnumbering the Greek Air Force planes by far.

At sea, it is a similar situation. The Turkish fleet is capable and sizeable, but commanders and crews are not as experienced as their Greek counterparts. On a daily basis in the Aegean, the Greek Navy ships show a commendable performance and substantive results, sending a loud message of superiority to their neighbor.

In regards to ground troops, Turkey seems to have tha upper hand. Turkish infantry units have been fighting for years in Syria, and a large number of troops have returned to their units with plenty of combat hours under their belts, transferring their experience to newer conscripts.

However, there is a weak point in regards to Turkey’s Armed Forces in general. After the July 2016 failed coup attempt, dozens of thousands of Turkish army men were kicked out, jailed, tortured, and even executed as coup suspects.

Thousands of seasoned troops are no longer in the ranks, with inexperienced men taking theur place. Furthermore, there is no trust between the staff, so there is a lack of cohesion in the Armed forces. There are cases that army men do not trust one another, a factor that weakens the effectiveness of operations.

Donald Trump and the S-400 Russian defensive missile system

The procurement of the Russian S-400 defensive missile system by Turkey is another major headache for the Greek Armed Forces. Ankara expects to receive them in mid-July and place them across the country’s coastline.

Naturally, NATO allies and the U.S., in particular, are not too happy with this development. Washington has threatened Turkey with sanctions. However, on Saturday, during the G-20 meeting in Osaka, Japan. U.S. President Donald Trump allegedly told the Turkish president that he may not impose sanctions over the Russian missiles and will seek “different solutions”.

It should be noted that along with the S-400, Ankara has ordered 116 F-35 fighter jets which will be co-produced with Turkey. Ankara has paid the U.S. $1.4 billion.

So it seems that Erdogan is trying to establish equally advantageous relations with both Russia and the United States. The Turkish leader has always been unpredictable. No-one knows whether he is bluffing or he is serious about his warnings and threats.

Meanwhile, Trump and the U.S. military complex seem to try to keep equal distances between Greece and Turkey, leaving both sides wondering what would happen if there was any kind of engagement in the Aegean or the eastern Mediterranean.