Could Greece surpass Turkey?

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – Relations between Turkey and Greece have always been shaped by centuries-long enmity and boundaries, and more recently by migration. 

The recent spat between the two neighboring countries began when Turkey accused its neighbor of locking onto Turkish fighter jets with its Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems deployed on the island of Crete early in September.

Ankara said Greek pilots placed Turkish aircraft under a radar lock over the Eastern Mediterranean during a NATO mission last month. That was denied categorically by Turkey’s historic rival.

Following the dispute both countries sent respective letters to NATO complaining of each other. While Athens called the Turkish action is condemned as a violation of its airspace, Turkey, in its letter sent to NATO, indicated that Greece was occupying Turkish lands and referred to the Geek people as “vile.”

The Turks claim twenty Turkish islands and two Turkish islets are under Greek occupation. Athens rejects the “outrageous” rhetoric embraced by Turkish officials, however.

Greece says it needs to defend its eastern islands — including Rhodes and Kos, against its larger and militarily stronger neighbor.

The United States called on both NATO allies to resolve their differences diplomatically.  

Referring to the past hostilities, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking at a public event said on September 3, “Greece, look at history, go back in time; if you go too far, the price will be heavy. We have one thing to say to Greece: Remember Izmir.”

Izmir is a province on Turkey’s western Aegean Sea coast that bears painful memories for the Greek forces in the battle fought on 1922. It was a decisive and a pivotal battle fought within the Turkish liberation war of independence. The Greek incurred one of their ever humiliating defeats.

Ankara accuses Athens of violating international agreements by keeping a military presence on islands close to Turkey’s Aegean coastline. Notably, it is the first time that a Turkish president has accused Greece of occupying islands in the Aegean.

However, though the Turkish President said that Turkey could “come all of a sudden one night,” a phrase related to Syrian operations, the Turkish threats seem just rhetoric.

The possibility of a Greek-Turkish conflict seems very low. Greece and Turkey have come close to war three times in the last half-century.

Three days ago, Greek coastguard ships opened fire on a cargo vessel sailing in international waters in the Aegean Sea, arousing fears of escalating tensions more with Turkey that have mounted in recent weeks.

Asked about that Turkish threats may develop into action on the ground, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said “I don’t believe this will ever happen. Turkey knows the competence of the Greek forces.”

Over the past decade, migration has become a thorny issue between the two countries. Athens says Ankara uses refugees as a pressing card against Europe. For Greece, this is a heavy burden at it is the way for those refugees coming to Europe. Recently, a border fence was to be extended by the Greek authorities as a protection measure, according to the Greek Ministry of Protection.

The long-decade long Syrian crisis seems to have its effects on the relations between the two countries. It is the Syrian crisis that pushes Turkey go for Russia, and it is the Syrian refugee crisis that adds friction to the already marred relations between Athens and Greece.

However, there is a most sensitive point that makes the relations between the two countries a friction. Greece is becoming more important for the NATO as Turkey is recently heading into the lap of Turkey.

Turkey has been expelled from the F-35 joint strike fighter program for buying Russian S-400 air defense systems, while Greece has moved to join the program, seeking to acquire up to 40 F-35 jets.

Any Greek ascendancy in the region could be costly for Turkey that used to tilt the balance between the East and the West to its favor, at least in the last century. The Turks comprehend such an idea.

Reporting by John Ahmad