ATHENS – No one's listened yet, but now Hellenic National Defense General Staff (GEETHA) Chief Konstantinos Floros said constant Turkish provocations that go unanswered is tearing asunder the Eastern Mediterranean and jeopardizing security.
Floros told Israel's i24 New TV that other countries in the region should join with Greece in rebuking Turkey, which is drilling for oil and gas in Cypriot waters and planning to do the same off Crete.
Turkey signed a maritime deal with Libya dividing the seas between them and Greek military leaders said if drilling is attempted off Crete it would produce a response, with growing worries of a naval and military conflict.
Floros said Turkey is a “destabilizing factor,” and poses a threat not just to Greece but other countries although the European Union said it won't impose any more sanctions beyond soft penalties over the Cypriot drilling.
He said that states in the Eastern Mediterranean region ought to “cooperate in a framework of peace and security and to pursue the well-being of their citizens,” and stressed that the Greek Armed Forces were prepared to defend the country’s territorial integrity and sovereign rights against any threat.
Greece wants the EU to prepare “crippling” economic sanctions for use against neighboring Turkey if it goes ahead with planned offshore gas and oil exploration off Greek islands, Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said earlier.
The EU, however, has been timid and reluctant to irritate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who said he would unleash on the bloc – through Greece and its islands and land borders – millions of refugees and migrants who went to his country fleeing war and strife in their homelands, especially Afghanistan and Syria's civil war.
Relations between the two historic regional rivals, and uneasy NATO allies, have deteriorated fast in recent months, with differences including undersea drilling rights, illegal immigration flows and Turkey's decision to convert the iconic Hagia Sophia in Istanbul from a museum to a mosque
Dendias said has told his EU colleagues that if Ankara goes ahead with plans to drill off the islands of Crete, Rhodes and Karpathos, the bloc must respond with a pre-drafted list of severe sanctions, but none have even been discussed.
“The European Union is Turkey's biggest trading partner,” Dendias told private Star TV. ”If it wants, it can create a huge problem for the Turkish economy. That's not my wish ... but we must be clear."
Greece says it has exclusive rights in the areas targeted by Turkey, which in the case of Crete lie far off the Turkish coast but Turkey is claiming waters around a number of Greek islands under the deal with Libya no other country recognizes.
Dendias added that if Greece comes under armed attack from its neighbor, it will invoke a section of the 2009 Treaty on European Union that obliges member states to provide aid and assistance to another EU country facing armed aggression although the EU doesn't have a military and it's uncertain if other companies would stand up against Turkey if their interests aren't at risk.
Greece and Turkey have come to the brink of war three times since 1974, most recently in 1996 when both claimed the uninhabited rocky islets of Imia and three Greek servicemen died when their helicopter either crashed or was shot down, no explanation given after 24 years.
Turkey has already dispatched warship-escorted vessels to drill for gas in an area where EU member Cyprus insists it has exclusive rights. The Turkish government has said it is acting to protect its interests in the area’s natural resources and those of Turkish-Cypriots.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)