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Columnists

The Fog of Greek-Turkish War Talk Clouds Reality

It was impossible. Then unthinkable. Then improbable… unlikely, can’t happen, no chance, no way, just bluster and sabre-rattling and playing to his audience – but the chances of a Greece-Turkey conflict are being talked about now.

That’s because Turkish Dictator-Sultan-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an old hand at humiliating timid Eunuch Union officials who have to wear Depends when they meet him, is facing re-election in 2023 as inflation has skyrocketed, and nothing distracts a populace like war talk.

Nevertheless, there won’t be a conflict, accidental or otherwise, nor a war between the countries because the stakes are too high, and there are too many international players involved who want to protect their interests and keep using Greece and Turkey as geopolitical pawns on a bigger chess board.

And even Erdogan, who purged his military along with judiciary, education system, and civil sector after a failed 2016 coup attempt against him, knows about the Fog of War, the uncertainty that takes over when shots are fired.

Or, as former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson said: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” and no amount of war colleges, theorizing, or computer scenarios can predict what will happen.

So talk of war is just whispers or couched in other language to pretend it’s not on the table, and this isn’t 1974, when Turkey – with the implicit backing of the United States – was allowed to invade Cyprus.

The United States, as always playing both sides against the middle, is the Big Referee, having renewed a military co-operation deal with Greece and wanting to add more military bases in the country – while President Joe Biden wants to sell Turkey more F-16s that could be used against Greece if there’s battles.

But even talk about talking about talk of a conflict has raised the idea – it won’t happen – and it gets ratcheted up every time Erdogan opens a mouth no one has punched yet.

Ioannis Michaletos, an Associate with the Institute for Defense & Security Analysis (ISDA) in Athens, knows more about this than most anyone else and told The National Herald not to worry – for now.

“I don’t think Turkey at this particular moment is able to produce a crisis like  an Imia-type one,” he said, referring to the 1996 incident over uninhabited islets when there was indeed almost a conflict – before the United States got involved.

Four Greek servicemen were killed there in a helicopter crash whose circumstances remain largely a mystery amid widespread belief they were shot down and there was a cover-up to prevent war.

Erdogan openly covets the return of some Greek islands in the Aegean ceded away by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne he doesn’t recognize unless citing it in demands Greece remove troops from Greek islands near Turkey – or face a challenge to their sovereignty (translation: invasion.)

But Michaletos said Erdogan has a lot else on his plate, noting that Turkey “recently invaded, once again, Syria with some 50,000 active troops plus additional units on standby and logistics and they also have a severe internal economic crisis plus elections coming up next year.”

He added: NATO, the United States, and France would most certainly oppose any offensive Turkish moves. “It’s more of a rhetoric that’s being escalated,” he said, although NATO wouldn’t intervene over Turkish violations of Greek airspace and the defense alliance chief, Jens ‘Jello’ Stoltenberg, is afraid of Erdogan.

However, the Turkish leader has human weapons he can dispatch: some 4.4 million refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war, strife, and economic hardship in their homelands, primarily Syria and Afghanistan.

Turkey is supposed to contain them under an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU but lets human traffickers keep sending them, mostly to five Greek islands, although fewer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So while the anxiety in Greece is over Turkey eyeing Greek islands or sending in more fighter jets, or energy research vessels and warships off Greek islands, Michaletos said watch out for those refugees.

Erdogan sent 10,000 of them to the land border near the Evros River in February, 2020 – just before COVID struck – and urged them to cross before they were repelled by riot police and Greek army units.

“What I am really worried about is an immigration ‘wave’ coming out of Turkey whereby the latter would deny it is involved and then accuse Greece as being ‘non-humanitarian,’” he also said.

Turkey, with the second-biggest army in NATO, has a decided advantage in equipment and manpower, but Greece has the most skilled pilots and Mitsotakis built an arsenal with French warships and fighter jets and reached out for international alliances as a bulwark against the idea of war.

Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said that Turkey has not dared to challenge Greece militarily because it would have consequences that even Erdogan has to fear.

“It is our capabilities that deter the other side from daring a military engagement, because they know the heavy cost that they would be forced to pay. Our armed forces are at all times vigilant, fully ready, and decisive,” he told Manifesto.

Erdogan, he said, “always provokes tension whenever he feels threatened or faces problems at home,” adding that the Turkish leader’s belligerence is backfiring with the international community.

So the dogs of war will remain leashed.

 

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