ΑΤΗΕΝS — Tension was so high in 2020 with Turkey hunting for oil and gas off the Greek island of Kastellorizo that the two countries were on the verge of war three times, Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said.
In an interview with the newspaper Proto Thema he said that while the two countries are in exploratory talks over sea boundaries disputes that as long as a threat remains that, “There is no question of demilitarization of the islands. It is intertwined with maintaining the threat.”
Turkey had wanted its demand for Greece to remove troops from Greek islands near Turkey’s coast to be on table as well but that was rejected by the Greek side of Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
But during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Turkey was so persistent in pushing its plans for an energy hunt that a Turkish research vessel and warships were shadowed constantly by the Greek Navy.
“Three times there was a universal mobilization of the Armed Forces,” he said, emphasizing the extent of their tensions with Turkey as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan kept up belligerence.
As for the exploratory talks – a 61st round began Jan. 25 in Constantinople in a four-hour chat aimed at being only that – he said of the Turkish side that, “We explain to them that we are coming to discuss specific issues on the agenda and that these preliminary discussions take place on these specific issues only, and not on any possible claim that Turkey may make, say demilitarization of the islands.”
He added that it is Greece’s “supreme sovereign right is to protect our national integrity and on this basis, we choose to have forces of legal and preventive defense on the islands.”
He said the Navy was at the center of the mobilization “and came close to the Turkish Navy in many cases that we know of. But the entire Armed Forces was ready for any eventuality, from armed aircraft at bases to Army units at the border,” Greece ready for a conflict.
“We had a strange certainty that this mobilization would succeed in sending the other side the message of deterrence. That is, the opponents would not reach a point of military engagement because they knew they would face heavy costs,” he said, added Al Arabiya English.