Is the US Eyeing Crete as an Alternative to Military Base in Turkey?



Helicopter landing on the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams. Credit: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Austin Collins/U.S. Sixth Fleet

The visit of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Athens and Crete in the last several days has reinforced a notion expressed by senior Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee for Europe: that US officials are considering exchanging its facilities at Incirlik Air Force base in Turkey with an extension of the US Naval base in Souda Bay, Crete.

The senator expressed this opinion in a piece in the Washington Examiner.

Turkey‘s erratic — if not openly aggressive — behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean, which   escalated in recent months with direct threats against Greece and Cyprus, has led US officials to begin looking for alternatives regarding their alliances in the region.

Another important factor in such a decision would certainly be Turkey’s continued affiliation with Russia. The relationship between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin has grown stronger in recent years, culminating with the procurement of the S-400 missile system by Ankara.

Furthermore, Turkey has been involved in armed conflicts in the Middle East, opening up several fronts. First it was the invasion of Syria under the pretext of creating a safe zone for Syrian refugees. Then it was its military interference in Libya’s civil war. Only days ago Turkey sided with Azerbaijan in its armed conflict with Armenia.

Then there are Erdogan’s expansionist aims and his openly expressed desire to revive the Ottoman Empire of old — with himself on the seat of the great sultan. Aims which are also expressed with the issuing of a map of the “Blue Homeland,” which includes territories in Greece and nations to the east of Turkey.

All these actions have generated a volatile atmosphere in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s involvement in all the conflicts in the area is a cause of concern not only for the United States but also for NATO and the European Union.

“I don’t think we want to make that strategic shift, but I think, from a defensive posture, I think we have to look at the reality of the situation that the path that Erdogan is on is not good,” Senator Johnson told the Washington Examiner.

Indeed, in recent months the Turkish leader’s policy decisions makes Incirlik untenable for American forces, and Ankara’s overall stance may force the US to withdraw the 50 nuclear weapons from the base.

So the shift in alliances that US officials and analysts seem to be suggesting is a possibility. The U.S. State Secretary’s announcement on Tuesday that the naval base in Souda will become the  new home for the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams expeditionary sea base vessel is a sign that the U.S. is already looking at alternatives.

Whereas in the past US President Donald Trump seemed to favor Turkey, now his  administration is increasing its military and diplomatic ties with Greece. This is possibly only as a warning to Turkey, but Ankara does not seem willing to stop its aggressive behavior in the region.

If these suggestions by US officials materialize, developments in the Eastern Mediterranean will definitely turn to Greece’s benefit. While Turkey is a tough nut to crack due to Erdogan’s unpredictability, the United States seems to be leaning more toward Greece now when it comes to any conflict between the two nations.