Turkish-Greek relations tense amid fears of military showdown

Bilateral relations between Athens and Ankara have deteriorated, sparking fears of a military confrontation between the two NATO allies. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 June 2020

Turkish-Greek relations tense amid fears of military showdown

  • Greek defense minister recently highlighted his country’s “readiness for military conflict with Turkey”
  • On Wednesday, a Greek navy ship attempted to inspect a cargo vessel off the Libyan coast but a Turkish military escort refused access

ISTANBUL: In an escalating war of nerves between Athens and Ankara, bilateral relations have deteriorated, sparking fears of a military confrontation between the two NATO allies.
Greek Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos recently highlighted his country’s “readiness for military conflict with Turkey.”
On Wednesday, a Greek navy ship attempted to inspect a cargo vessel off the Libyan coast but a Turkish military escort refused access.
Greece has also protested Turkish drilling plans in 24 locations in the Mediterranean Sea that it considers Greek territory.
In a statement, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias warned that Athens  would retaliate if Ankara begins drilling in the area.
At the Delphi Economic Forum on June 11, Greek Deputy National Security Adviser Thanos Dokos pushed for greater regional cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean.
A controversial maritime deal between Turkey and Libya’s Government of National Accord has also caused alarm. It permits Ankara to explore the Mediterranean seabed, including several Greek islands.
However, experts do not expect immediate military confrontation between the two countries.
Paul Antonopoulos, an expert on Turkish-Greek relations, says the situation will remain a war of words.
“Since Greece won its independence from the Ottoman Empire, there have been four major wars between the Greeks and Turks, with Greece always being the one to first declare the war. Athens has already said it does not want war but will only respond to Turkish-initiated aggression,” he told Arab News.
He added: “It is unlikely that (President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan will declare war, especially as Turkey is militarily over-extended in Syria and Libya and is facing an economic crisis.”
Antonopoulos said: “Athens has also suggested that the International Court of Justice at The Hague be used to resolve the maritime issue, but Ankara does not recognize its authority. It is through international law that Greece and Turkey can resolve the maritime issue, however Ankara does not recognize any of the internationally recognized means to do so.”
Similarly, Greek security analyst Ioannis Michaletos does not predict a military confrontation between the two countries.
“This is a scenario with very few probabilities under the current circumstances. The continuation of a tense atmosphere between the two countries for the foreseeable future, especially on the diplomatic front, is likely,” he told Arab News.
Michaletos does not anticipate a “breakthrough” soon for the deeply rooted divergences between the two countries.
“The instability will tend to continue throughout 2020 for sure,” he said.
The ongoing controversy about the conversion of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, built as a Byzantine cathedral in the 6th century and protected under the UNESCO World Heritage list, into a mosque, has been protested by the Greek government, especially due to its status as the former seat of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Stelios Petsas, a spokesman for the Greek government, said “Hagia Sophia is a global monument of cultural heritage” that was now being used as “a tool to promote other aims.”
Antonopoulos said that its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site would require the approval of the Paris-based organization to convert it.
“Failure to get approval could see various forms of punishment against Turkey with UN backing, including sanctions, and Erdogan may not want to risk the economic volatility,” he said.
He argues that Erdogan “is fomenting issues”… “as a way to distract the population from the severe economic situation.”


Dubai reopens doors to tourists after long shutdown

Updated 07 July 2020

Dubai reopens doors to tourists after long shutdown

  • Incoming tourists are required to present a negative test result taken within four days of the flight
  • Dubai is known for its mega malls, high-end restaurants and five-star hotels and resorts

DUBAI: With a “welcome” passport sticker and coronavirus tests on arrival, Dubai reopened its doors to international visitors Tuesday in the hope of reviving its tourism industry after a nearly four-month closure.
But businesses are mainly betting on those already living in the gleaming desert city to energise its ailing economy and serve as a test run before wary foreign holidaymakers return.
“A warm welcome to your second home,” said the sticker applied to passports at Dubai airport, where employees wore hazmat suits and vending machines offered personal protective equipment.
Italian tourist Francesca Conte said on arrival she was worried up until the last minute that her flight would be canceled.
“When I saw passengers queueing at the gate, I thought today we are not leaving, since the trip to Dubai had already been skipped three times,” Conte said.
She said she felt sad “seeing empty spaces” on the plane and stewards and hostesses “dressed like nurses and doctors,” in their lab coats.
The reopening Tuesday came as the number of COVID-19 cases in the United Arab Emirates climbed to 52,600 included 326 deaths, with millions of foreign workers living in cramped accommodation particularly hard hit.
Incoming tourists are required to present a negative test result taken within four days of the flight. If not, they can take the test on arrival, but must self-isolate until they receive the all-clear.
Tourism has long been the lifeline of the glitzy Gulf emirate, one of the seven sheikhdoms that make up the UAE.
High season starts in October when the scorching heat of the Gulf summer starts to dissipate.
Dubai welcomed more than 16.7 million visitors last year, and before the pandemic crippled global travel, the aim had been to reach 20 million arrivals in 2020.
“We are ready to receive tourists while we take all necessary precautions,” said Talal Al-Shanqiti of Dubai’s General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs in a video message tweeted on Sunday.
With scant oil resources compared to its neighbors, Dubai has built the most diversified economy in the Gulf, boasting a reputation as a financial, commercial and tourism hub despite an economic downturn in recent years.
The city-state is known for its mega malls, high-end restaurants and five-star hotels and resorts.
But all have taken a severe hit during the coronavirus outbreak, and Dubai’s GDP in the first quarter of 2020 contracted 3.5 percent following two years of modest growth.
Dubai-based airline Emirates, the largest in the Middle East, has been forced to slash its sprawling network and is believed to have laid off thousands of staff.
Before reopening to international tourists, authorities launched social media campaigns and deployed hundreds of social media “influencers” to tout Dubai’s attractions.
As the hospitality business works out how to create an environment that follows strict hygiene rules but is still worth the hassle for potential foreign clients, hotels are offering Dubai residents “staycation” and “daycation” deals to offset the slump.
Restarting hospitality by “primarily targeting the domestic market is an important first step in our phased approach toward restoring normalcy in the tourism industry,” said Issam Kazim, CEO of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
And key to the effort are health and safety measures at hotels to “reassure guests and travelers that Dubai is one of the world’s safest destinations,” he said in a statement last month.
Boosting domestic tourism is also part of the strategy of the UAE’s other main destination, the oil-rich capital Abu Dhabi, which welcomed a record 11.35 million international visitors in 2019.
The UAE’s capital is home to top attractions including an F1 circuit and the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, which in late June opened its doors to masked, gloved visitors after a 100-day closure.
But the emirate does not share Dubai’s enthusiasm about opening doors to foreign tourists just yet, although those with negative test results are now allowed to enter.
“Plans have changed and we are not expecting to have the same numbers of 2019 this year definitely. It would take another two to three years,” said Ali Al-Shaiba, executive director of tourism and marketing for the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism.
“As of today, I can say domestic tourism is what is in our plan. We believe domestic tourism is key now and we don’t see us opening for international travelers very soon,” he told AFP on Monday.