Greece's Former Defense Chief Lauds US Military Presence Plans

Αssociated Press

FILE - Former Greek Defence Minister Evangelos Apostolakis meets with US 6th Fleet commander Vice Admiral Lisa Franchetti, June 20, 2019. US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt accompanied the Commander. (Photo by Eurokinissi)

ATHENS – He served the previous ruling Radical Left SYRIZA but former defense chief Evangelos Apostolakis, an Admiral in the Greek Navy, said the extension of a defense agreement with the United States will help make the country more secure and modernize its defenses.

In an interview with Kathimerini’s Sunday edition, Apostolakis, a former chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff (GEETHA), said the amendment to the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) will make it easier for the Americans to deploy ships and use additional military bases in Greece when the need arises.

“Furthermore, they will be able to build or enhance existing infrastructure so it can accommodate more troops,” he said. Ironically, it was the formerly anti-American SYRIZA leader and former Premier Alexis Tsipras who moved to improve relations with the US as Greece was faced with growing Turkish aggression in the Aegean and East Mediterranean.

Apostolakis said that Greece’s priorities should be reorganizing its military, completing the modernization of its F-16 fighter jets and upgrading its fleet of Meko frigates but said there's an opening now to join the US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program after Turkey was bounced for buying a Russian-made missile defense system that could compromise the defenses of NATO, to which both countries.

“If we were given an opportunity to quickly join the program… we could then upgrade only part of our F-16s,” he said, adding that Greece could purchase a number of F-35s instead to give Greece an edge over Turkish jets which frequently violate Greek airspace and engage in mock dogfights with responding Greek pilots.

Asked about Turkey’s aggression in the Eastern Mediterranean, Apostolakis said, “Turkey’s effort to impose its views and achieve its military objectives is creating problems not only for Greece but for all states” in the region.

Despite the US aligning itself more closely with Greece, wanting to expand American military presence in the country, he said Turkey could have been pushed more but wasn't because Washington wants to juggle interests.

“The Americans want to keep Turkey close to them at any cost, the pressure has been lax,” he said. “At the same time, the European Union, for reasons that we all understand, does not wish to enter in direct confrontation with Turkey,” he added.

Although Apostolakis did not rule out the chance of an “incident” in the Aegean, he said it was not in Turkey's interest to trigger one, fearing the reprisals. “It would add yet another problem to (Turkey’s) already long list, without (yielding) any substantial benefit.”