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.”


Iran dismisses US efforts at UN sanctions as currency drops

Updated 5 sec ago

Iran dismisses US efforts at UN sanctions as currency drops

  • Iran’s currency dropped to 272,500 to the US dollar at money exchange shops across Tehran

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran dismissed US efforts to restore all UN sanctions on the country as mounting economic pressure from Washington pushed the local currency down to its lowest level ever on Sunday.
Iran’s currency dropped to 272,500 to the US dollar at money exchange shops across Tehran.
The rial has lost more than 30 percent of its value to the dollar since June as sweeping US sanctions on Iran continue to crush its ability to sell oil globally. Iran’s currency was at 32,000 rials to the dollar at the time of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which was signed by the Obama administration but which the Trump administration pulled the US from.
As the currency plummeted, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh slammed the Trump administration’s declaration Saturday that all UN sanctions against Iran have been reimposed because Tehran is not complying with the nuclear deal.
The US move has been rejected as illegal by most of the rest of the world and sets the stage for an ugly showdown at the world body ahead of its annual General Assembly this week.
Even before the US declaration, other Security Council members had vowed to ignore it. They say the US lost legal standing to invoke snapback sanctions when President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing US sanctions on Iran.
The Iranian government spokesman said the snapback sanctions have only happened in “the fantastical world” of the Trump administration. He said the US stands on the wrong side of history.
“They are attempting to make everyone believe it, but nobody is buying it except for themselves,” Khatibzadeh said during his weekly press briefing on Sunday.
“It is a television show whose sole presenter, viewers and those cheering it on are Mr. Pompeo himself and a handful of others,” the spokesman said, referring to the US secretary of state.
“Tehran’s message to Washington is clear: return to the international community, return to your commitments and stop bullying so the international community will accept you,” he added.
The White House plans to issue an executive order on Monday spelling out how the US will enforce the restored sanctions, and the State and Treasury departments are expected to outline how foreign individuals and businesses will be penalized for violations.
Tensions are running high between Iran and the US, particularly since a US strike in January killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, prompting Tehran to retaliate with a ballistic missile strike on Iraqi bases housing American troops.