ATHENS – With tensions remaining high over Turkish provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean, Greece's former defense minister, Retired Adm. Evangelos Apostolakis said tahere were “numerous instances” when the two countries almost came to blows.
He said there were instances when there could have been another “Imia incident” in reference to a January 1999 confrontation over rocky, uninhabited islets where three Greek military members died in a still-unexplained circumstances that critics said was covered up to prevent a war.
Speaking to the Athens-based SKAI TV, he said, "This didn't depend only why they (incidents) started. If we reacted to the provocations and created an escalation ... then it may be worse to step back," he said, adding that he often briefed then Premier and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras over what was happening.
Asked about official Turkey's stance and its goal, Apostolakis said it was "crystal clear" that Turkey wanted a greater presence as its President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said he doesn't recognize the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that set borders and as he coveted return of islands ceded to Greeece.
"They (Turkish armed forces) reveal this by the way they move and the positions they take; they want to have a say in developments in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean. They believe they have greater rights than what international law gives them. I consider that in order to deal with them, a constant pressure needs to be exerted, not just towards the Turkey, but for us to apply all of our diplomatic tools; pressure must not stop," he added.
Before being named defense chief – replacing Panos Kammenos, the provocative leader of the Independent Greeks (ANEL) who took his party out of the coalition led by SYRIZA - Apostolakis was career naval office, retiring as the chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff, a similarity he shares with current Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.