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Greece's Ex-Defense Chief Says US, EU Won't Help in Turkish Conflict

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Greece's ex-Defense Minister Evangelos Apostolakis. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Yorgos Kontarinis)

ATHENS – If growing tensions bring a conflict with Turkey, Greece can't count on much help from its allies, including the European Union to which it belongs, or the United States that expressed verbal support, Greece's former defense chief said.

Former Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, who had also been Chief of the Hellenic Navy General Staff, served the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA and told Mega TV that if a crisis occurs such as the 1996 Imia incident in the two countries almost went to war over who owned the uninhabited rocky islets of Imia were to occur now that Greece would likely find allies standing on the sidelines.

“If we need to go into a conflict, we will probably be alone. We have to make these calculations,” he said on the show, said the Sydney-based Greek City Times, adding that despite growing Turkish provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean that he doesn't think Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would go too far.

“As long as his work is done with his diplomatic moves, with his alliances, with his blackmail and with his lies about international law, he doesn’t need to make a fuss. The hot episode has other issues,” said the former minister.

In December 2018, Apostolakis was quoted at meeting with defense ministry correspondents as saying, "If the Turks land on a Greek rock islet we will flatten it,” although he also rolled back the belligerent talk and said efforts were focused on avoiding a military conflict.

Turkey has ramped up the anxiety since making a deal with Libya dividing the seas between them and claiming waters off Greek islands, including Crete, where it said drilling for energy would be conducted as it's doing off Cyprus.

Apostolakis said Erdogan is using refugees and migrants as a political weapon that his country is supposed to be holding as part of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU.

They had gone to Turkey fleeing war and strife in their homelands, especially Afghanistan and Syria's civil war but Turkey has allowed human traffickers to keep sending them to Greek islands and Erdogan had 10,000 sent to the northern land border with Greece earlier this year in an attempt to get them across.

That was stopped when Greece closed its side of the border and sent riot police and Army units to repeal any crossings but Greece remains on alert in case there is another attempt or more sent to islands with the warm weather making crossing the Aegean less perilous. 

Apostolakis said, “They are testing us and no one has shown that they can stop it,” he said, with the EU reluctant to push Erdogan too far, fearful he will unleash more refugees and migrants if he doesn't get his way.

He said Erdogan will continue to use the migrants but that Greece is prepared and that the area along the Evros River where they tried to cross is well guarded and being beefed up by the New Democracy government.  “There is increased readiness and supervision,” he said.

The situation is very critical, with Greece setting “red” lines, but much work is still needed at the diplomatic level, Apostolakis said.

“Alliances must therefore be strengthened, but there are many countries (such as Egypt and Israel) that do not want to completely close the window of future cooperation with the neighbor,” he said of Turkey.