Turkey threatening Greece can affect Israel and EastMed - analysis

Turkey's discourse can be indicating a planned invasion of Syria and a destabilization of the eastern Mediterranean.

A Turkish soldier waves a flag on Mount Barsaya, northeast of Afrin, Syria. (photo credit: REUTERS/KHALIL ASHAWI/FILE PHOTO)
A Turkish soldier waves a flag on Mount Barsaya, northeast of Afrin, Syria.

Turkey is continuing to threaten Greece as the two countries once again appear headed toward a crisis. Ankara is using the crises to try to sideline and isolate Athens as Turkey also waits to play the energy card amid the Ukraine-Russia war.

Ankara, for instance, has been using vicious rhetoric and conjuring up dark memories of the ethnic cleansing of Greeks from what is now Turkey in the 1920s. At the same time, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been mocking Europe’s energy crisis even as Ankara seeks to play a role in exporting grain from Ukraine and brokering deals with Russia.

None of Turkey’s stances are new. Ankara, however, has sought since 2020 to patch up relations with other countries it threatened. It has maneuvered to heal ties with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Greece is an exception. Turkey has been bashing Greece and there are fears that worse may be to come. Turkey’s state media TRT has been instructed to “explain” the recent tensions by blaming the West and Greece.

For instance, a recent article at TRT claimed, “Experts believe Greece’s increasing violations of Turkish airspace is part of an agenda encouraged by the West to corner Turkey for taking an independent foreign policy.” Turkey’s state media openly says the “status of Aegean islands as well as the eastern Mediterranean’s newly discovered rich gas reserves” are issues that Turkey disputes.

This means Turkey wants to threaten Greek islands in a major attempt to rewrite history and drag up the ghosts of the 1920s when Greeks were ethnically cleansed from Turkey. Turkey later invaded Cyprus and also ethnically cleansed the Greek population.

 Protesters hold a Kurdish flag during a rally against the Turkish military operation in Syria, in Berlin, Germany, October 14, 2019 (credit: MICHELE TANTUSSI/REUTERS) Protesters hold a Kurdish flag during a rally against the Turkish military operation in Syria, in Berlin, Germany, October 14, 2019 (credit: MICHELE TANTUSSI/REUTERS)

While Turkey claims it was merely responding to threats against the Turkish community, Ankara has a long history of attacking minorities, such as Kurds and Armenians. Greeks have suffered pogroms in Turkey during the last century.  

While it is not likely that an invasion of the Greek islands is on Turkey’s agenda, the country is trying to create an excuse to harass Greek ships and airplanes. This is part of Ankara’s attempt to lay claim to a swath of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey claims this is about energy exports, but Turkey has plenty of areas to drill and search for gas elsewhere. The goal of Ankara is to use the energy threat to create trouble. Ankara knows that with the Ukraine war ongoing, Europe is desperate for natural gas and energy imports.

How is Turkey using its relations with Israel?

In fact, Turkey has sought to improve relations with Israel specifically to reroute energy deals from Israel via Turkey to Europe. The goal again is to isolate and sideline Greece and then make the European Union and NATO members dependent on Turkey. Ankara already showed its intentions by threatening to keep Sweden and Finland out of NATO.

Turkey calls this an independent foreign policy, but that policy is anti-Europe, anti-Western and generally pro-Russia. It is also part of an approach that means Ankara works closely with Iran and other authoritarian regimes.

Ankara never threatens Iran, for instance, but it does bash Europe, Greece and other NATO allies. Israel is momentarily out of the spotlight, but Ankara hinted that worse relations could be coming as TRT slammed big tech companies like Google for doing deals in Israel.

Turkey and Israel recently renewed full diplomatic ties, but Ankara will want to use the better ties with Israel to try to harm Israel-Greece and Israel-Cyprus ties.  

TURKEY ACCUSES GREECE of using air defense to “lock on” to Turkish jets over international waters, and of “violating” its territorial waters.

Ankara’s state media said, “Abdullah Agar, a Turkish security analyst, believes that Greece is acting on behalf of a Western political agenda to block Ankara’s independent political path in the eastern Mediterranean region and other areas across the country’s geopolitical hinterland.”

In short, Ankara is arguing that the West is against Turkey, but Turkey then uses the West to get profits and to blackmail NATO.  

Ankara’s language in this dispute is all about conjuring up the horrors of the 20th century. The expert quoted by TRT references a “geopolitical birth.” This refers to Ankara laying claim to old Ottoman lands, a policy known as irredentism. Policies like this created the great wars and genocides of the 20th century.

Ankara has already invaded Afrin and parts of Syria, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine likely is modeled in part on Turkey’s role in Syria. That means that Turkey, Russia, Iran, China and other regimes are working in concert to create a new “geopolitical” world order where US hegemony is sidelined and democracies are on the defensive. Greece, the birthplace of Western democracy and philosophy, is a target for Turkey.  

The most recent incident that Turkey references is a dispute about what took place when Turkey claims it was escorting US B-52 bombers near Crete.

Clearly, Ankara appears to be trying to provoke a confrontation in the guise of working with the US. Turkey knows that the US Congress is much closer to Greece and Cyprus today and that American political voices are tiring of Ankara’s threats. During the Trump administration, Ankara enjoyed closer ties with the White House, but by 2020, it had burned its bridges.

Ankara hosted Hamas terrorist leaders and was threatening the US by the time Biden was elected. American politicians are not quick to forget these incidents, such as Ankara holding a US pastor hostage and harassing US troops in Syria. Turkey also acquired Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile system. Ankara today claims that the US isn’t being tough enough on Greece. It appears to be trying to create a crisis with NATO over Greece’s S-300s.  

Turkey’s state media, which is heavily controlled by the ruling AKP Party in Ankara, now voices claims that the crisis in Greek-Turkish relations will result in a Turkish “backlash” against the West. This will end with a push for Turkey to “develop a partnership with Russia to address the Syrian conflict.”

This is a big deal because it means that there could be a coming clash this winter between Turkey and the West and that Ankara and Russia may work together with Iran in Syria.

Turkey wants to launch a new invasion. If it can get Russia’s approval and Iran moves out of the way in areas near Aleppo, then Ankara can destabilize Syria and attack Kurds.

Already, it seems, some social media have been paving the way. One account that is close to the Turkish regime and former Syrian rebels who are allied with Ankara has been pushing propaganda against Kurds in Syria. The goal is to radicalize some of the former Syrian rebel groups to use them to fight the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and attack Kurds in Tel Rifat.

The Greece-Turkey crisis, therefore, is not just about a few incidents in the Mediterranean. Turkey’s own media is saying this is part of the geopolitical plan by Ankara to realign with Moscow and work on Syria.

This could result in new destabilization in the Eastern Mediterranean, affect Turkey-Israel ties, and unleash Islamist radicals backed by Turkey in Syria. An add-on effect could relate to the Iran deal and Russia-Iran ties.

Considering the size of the playing field on which Ankara can cause trouble and try to play countries off one another, it is worth listening to what Ankara might be planning.

Ankara usually admits its plans openly via major media in Turkey because its ruling party has a media policy agenda in which it uses media to telegraph its moves.