Turkish President Erdogan’s Sabre-Rattling Unnerves Greece

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is becoming bolder toward Greece. (AP Photo)

ATHENS – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasing provocations against Greece – disputing borders, having fighter jets violate Greek air space, sending warships past Greek islands he covets – have set off worries he has bigger designs.

Erdogan, who said he doesn’t recognize the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that determined the boundaries of Greece and Turkey – he also refuses to recognize Cyprus – has stepped up his rhetoric at the same time he’s cracking down in the wake of a failed coup attempt against him in July this year.

But does his bellicose manner show he’s ready to become more belligerent, or is his bellowing for domestic consumption in Turkey, where anger is rising that the country’s European Union membership hopes are slipping away at the same time the country is facing increased terrorism within and becoming more involved in the Syrian Civil War?

And, a bigger question: will his taunting provoke an accidental response and lead to an armed conflict between the two NATO members?

Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, apparently fearing Erdogan will again let human traffickers unleash refugees and migrants on overwhelmed Greek islands as Turkey is waiting for the European Union’s suspended swap deal to deliver him six billion euros, visa-free travel for Turks in Europe bloc and faster-track entry into the bloc, has said almost nothing in response.

But Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, head of the pro-austerity, far-right, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who serve Tsipras in a coalition, has taken the bait from Erdogan, visiting Greek island near Turkey in battle fatigue and calling the Turkish leader a dictator.

It may be just the king of all men’s locker room fights, say some analysts, although others say Erdogan is a volatile and unpredictable leader whose moves can’t be confidently predicted.

“Turkey on a conventional military level has some serious deficiencies nowadays. After the failed coup, almost half the fighter pilot force is in jail or forced to resign, whilst the navy higher corps faced the same fate,” Ioannis Michaletos, a terrorism and security analyst at the Athens-based Institute for Security and Defence Analysis told The National Herald.

“Their morale and capabilities of both navy and force for offensive operations currently is a much lower level than before. At the same time Turkey has two serious military fronts already; that of the domestic Kurdistan guerilla war and their expedition to Syria, plus multiple internal problems relating to security concerns,” he added.

A MOST CURIOUS AFFAIR

Greek officials are trying to figure out Erdogan’s endgame as he continues provocations over territory, including back scheduled meetings with Tsipras, fueling more concern the Turkish strongman may be planning something.

Greek political and military personnel are under orders to exercise restraint, Kathimerini said, and Tsipras hasn’t said boo to Erdogan.

It’s now unclear whether Erdogan and Tsipras will even talk ahead of a Jan. 12 meeting in Geneva, three days after Cyprus’ rival leaders will have begun new talks trying to find a way to reunify the island divided since an unlawful 1974 Turkish invasion.

Greece, Turkey and the UK are guarantors of security on the island, along with the United Nations, and are set to join the talks after Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci try to find a solution to the thorny problem of how much territory and property stolen by Turks should be returned to Cypriots.

There are concerns among Greek diplomats that Erdogan wants to avoid meeting Tsipras and aims to make his move in Geneva, the newspaper said.

Tsipras noted, in comments in Berlin last week, that bilateral talks between Athens and Ankara are a prerequisite for “the successful outcome” of the Cyprus summit.

Something more nefarious may be afoot, Ioannis (John) M. Nomikos, Director of the Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS) in Athens told The National Herald.

“Erdogan transforms Turkey into a ‘STASI State’ similar to East Germany during the Cold War,” Nomikos said.

“Without a strategic compass, Turkey’s spasmodic Middle East policy reactions, the Syrian crisis, ISIS network, refugee policy towards USA, Russia, EU and China creates a lot of anxiety, unpredictability to the NATO Southeastern region,” he added.

He cautioned too that, “Even though, it is a great risk for Turkish armed forces, after the collapse of the military coup to create a “short period war conflict” against Greek islands or on Thrace area, I do believe that Turkey will attempt to attack Greece because a “wild cat” can’t stay isolated in a corner for a long time without attacking its geopolitical players.”

Michaletos said there’s another way Turkey could invade – by proxy.

“Turkey possess an unconventional peril to Greece and that is the ability of “sending” masses of immigrants to the Aegean islands, resulting in a crippling of the local economy-tourism, and raising serious security problems for Lesvos, Chios especially,” he said.

He added: “The threat exists but is of different nature from the traditional Turkey vs Greece conflict we know about. If Erdogan motivates an estimated number of one million refugees/immigrants to enter Greece in 2017, that would be a really big problem for Athens and the EU.””