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Politics

Turkey’s Isolated Energy Deal With Libya Threatens Greece Conflict

ATHENS – It took three years between making and ratifying, but a deal that Turkey made with the divided state of Libya to split the seas between them – encroaching on Greek islands and waters – renewed worries of a conflict breaking out between Athens and Ankara.

In a feature report, POLITICO noted the risk of Turkey pushing provocations as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ratcheting up the tension meter to even include threats of invading Greece.

Facing a re-election campaign in mid-2023 as record inflation is close to ruining the quality of life for Turks, Erdogan has been putting the pressure on Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis – who also has a 2023 campaign looming.

The agreement was approved in October – and that by a Parliament in Libya that isn’t recognized by a dissenting faction – and is not recognized in the world by any other country.

But Erdogan, seizing on any advantage he can take to press his cases against Greece, said it’s an instrument Turkey can use as it tries to further stake claims as he also vowed to return an energy research vessel and warships off Greek islands to look for oil and gas.

Mitsotakis is having none of that and while the European Union, growing some courage against Turkey finally, and the United States have supported Greece’s sovereignty, Erdogan has shown he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

The news site said that, “Turkey’s energy deal with Tripoli … is ratcheting up the dangers of open conflict between Ankara and Athens,” noting the agreement is to explore for energy off the Libyan coast without indicating whether it would take place in waters south of Greece.

Coming on the heels of Turkey continuing to violate Greek airspace with F-16 fighter jets and demanding that Greece take troops off Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast, it has boiled the waters between them.

Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias accused Turkey of exploiting “the turbulent situation in Libya to further destabilize security in the Mediterranean region and establish a regional hegemony,” the report said.

Compounding the troubles is that Turkey is drilling for energy off Cyprus, ignoring soft EU sanctions, and with the island’s legitimate Greek-Cypriot government that’s a member of the bloc also holding 2023 elections.

Erdogan’s rhetoric, said the report, “has now cranked up to alarming levels,” noting his threat to Greece that his forces could “come down suddenly one night,” making giving a warning making moot.

NO BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS

Dendias said that was a threat to Greek islands whose return Erdogan has openly coveted, Erdogan not recognizing the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that ceded them and frustrated that its coast could be cut off from the Aegean if Greece’s expands its territorial waters to their legal limits.

Ryan Gingeras, a professor in the department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in California told POLITICO that, “people underestimate the potential for conflict and there is a feeling among the U.S. and the EU that we have seen this movie before, and nothing really changes; I don’t know if that’s the case any longer.”

He said this doesn’t mean that war is imminent or likely, but he noted that military confrontation is now more probable.

“The balance of power now is perceived to be in favor of Turkey, more than it was before. Turkey has gone to war multiple times since 2016 and has prevailed. It has demonstrated that it’s able to change political conditions by military interventions on several fronts.”

Angelos Syrigos, a professor of international law and Greece’s Deputy Minister of Education, said that Erdogan is ramping up the noise meter to gain votes beyond his nationalist hard core.

“That opportunity can be offered to him either by Greece or by Syria. In legal terms, there’s the concept of potential malice. Ankara may not aim to kill anyone, but by its extreme behavior it could lead us to war,” he said.

Turkish Ambassador to Athens Burak Özügergin – who said he wants the war talk cooled – told POLITICO that the elections in both countries have become a dangerous catalyst.

“Elections are notorious for generating overly heated debates and fresh disputes. Next year, with the elections in the region, we may just have a ‘perfect storm’, as they say. But it would be anything but perfect if the tension goes above a certain level. We really need to be vigilant, because things can get out of control very quickly,” he said.

Said Gingeras: “For Ankara in the long term, the deal serves its bigger goal of having a more assertive presence in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean,” and that Erdogan wants to establish regional hegemony.

“Turkey wants to lead us into a debate about all issues, not only demarcation,” said Syrigos, a member of the ruling New Democracy party. “No government in Greece could ever accept that – it would fall the next day.”

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