Long-running tensions between Turkey and Greece flare up

The tensions in the east Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece are part of an interlinked and long-lasting set of crises determined by the conflicting views. (AFP)
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The tensions in the east Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece are part of an interlinked and long-lasting set of crises determined by the conflicting views. (AFP)
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (L) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) shake hands during the annual Summit of the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) in Thessaloniki on June 10, 2022. (AFP)
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Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (L) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) shake hands during the annual Summit of the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) in Thessaloniki on June 10, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 12 June 2022

Long-running tensions between Turkey and Greece flare up

The tensions in the east Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece are part of an interlinked and long-lasting set of crises deter
  • Experts say strained ties between them are being increasingly used for domestic purposes
  • Erdogan recently said that Mitsotakis ‘no longer exists’ for him as he accused him of trying to prevent the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey

ANKARA: Following Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ address to the US Congress last month, long-running tensions between Turkey and Greece are flaring up again.

As both countries simultaneously face an economic downturn with severe inflation, and as they near their election terms in 2023, experts say that tension between them is being increasingly used for domestic purposes.

Writing several tweets in the Greek language, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has directly threatened the Greeks to be prudent with their standpoint in the Aegean Sea, otherwise “they will regret” it.

Erdogan recently said that Mitsotakis “no longer exists” for him as he accused him of trying to prevent the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. He also warned: “Don’t try to dance with Turkey. You’ll get tired and stuck on the road.”

In return, the Greek government called for national unity toward an “unpredictable” neighbor, while former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras replied to Erdogan in Turkish, saying: “Greece will protect its sovereignty against all threats. So let’s end the provocation and get back to dialogue on the basis of international law. The answer to the economic crisis we are all facing is not extreme nationalism.”

Mitsotakis also warned against the “aggressiveness” of Turkey and said he will not “be involved in a game of personal insults.”

For Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow at Washington Institute, this recent tension is unprecedented.

“Erdogan issues a warning to Greece over Aegean Sea disputes, threatening a repeat of the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922 in which Greece was brutally defeated by Turkey. This is the most serious escalation of tensions between Ankara and Athens in recent memory,” he said.

After issuing several statements over recent weeks urging for common sense to prevail in the Turkey-Greece conflict and throwing his weight behind Athens, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited the Greek port city of Thessaloniki on Friday as part of the South East European Cooperation Process.

“The latest tensions in the East Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece are part of an interlinked and long-lasting set of crises determined by the conflicting views on what each country defines as national interests and national sovereignty,” Madalina Sisu-Vicari, an energy and geopolitics expert at Eurasian Energy Chamber, told Arab News.

Ankara emphasizes the need for the demilitarization of Greek islands neighboring Turkey in the Aegean Sea on the basis of international agreements as it sees the presence of Greek military forces there as a threat to its own domestic security.

Ankara is also against the involvement of NATO, the EU or third parties in the pending maritime issues in the Aegean Sea, such as overlapping claims on the continental shelves, maritime boundaries, illegal migration and Cyprus, as it seeks their resolution bilaterally.

Selim Koru, an analyst at Ankara-based think-tank TEPAV, says a technical solution through multilateral organizations like the EU and NATO could slow down the crisis but will not stop it.

“This crisis is the manifestation of a deep political process that has been unfolding for decades. It has a rationale of its own and won’t stop until it has run its course,” he told Arab News.

For Ankara, islands in the Aegean Sea were given to Greece under the Lausanne Treaty in 1923 and the Paris Treaty in 1947, which guarantee the islands’ unarmed status.

But Greece considers it its sovereign right to maintain its army there to defend against any hostile actions of Turkey’s army along the same shores.

Both countries also notified the UN about their positions on the islands, with some historians like Ryan Gingeras saying that “a war in the Aegean is not only possible but perhaps, at some point, probable.”

According to Sisu-Vicari, these maritime crises have been translating into many geopolitical confrontations and power struggles between Ankara and Athens, and they have been regularly revived or amplified by important developments, both domestic and international.

“Domestic factors such as economic difficulties and next year’s elections, in conjunction with Turkey’s reckoning about her geopolitical role and leverage in the context of the Ukraine war, were likely among the principal triggers of Ankara’s latest rhetoric,” she said.

However, other than the domestic factors, Sisu-Vicari thinks that the scaling down of the US geopolitical clout in the East Mediterranean — now even more amplified by the war in Ukraine — has impacted the Turkish-Greek crisis.

“On one hand, the EU’s membership perspective is frozen for Turkey, and the US has downsized its geopolitical presence in the East Mediterranean, and on the other, the interest of other European actors is mainly absorbed by the war in Ukraine,” she said.

In October 2020, Greece and Turkey decided to establish a military deconfliction mechanism following a series of talks in Brussels facilitated by NATO. The mechanism aimed at reducing the risk of “accidents” and “incidents” in the East Mediterranean by creating a hotline between the two counties.

But the exploratory talks that resumed last year made little progress. Turkey recently canceled a High-Level Strategic Council meeting with Greece.

Although it could help to ease some of the tensions, Sisu-Vicari thinks that it is difficult to see these long-lasting crises solved without a “grand bargain” in the East Mediterranean, which should include a visionary plan for the region and political concessions — perhaps painful — agreed upon by the principally concerned actors, Turkey and Greece.

“In the absence of such bargain, domestic or geopolitical factors would continue to revive and amplify the tensions,” she added.

The US State Department urged both allies to “avoid rhetoric that could further raise tensions.”

“Greece and Turkey are both strong partners and key NATO allies to the US and sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and protected,” it said in a statement.

Turkey’s largest military exercise, EFES-2022, which began on May 20, was concluded on June 10 with the participation of over 10,000 military personnel from 37 nations, including the US, the UK, France, Qatar and Pakistan — a move considered timely and significant amid rising regional tensions.


Flights for West Bank Palestinians to Turkey to start at end of August

Flights for West Bank Palestinians to Turkey to start at end of August
Updated 09 August 2022

Flights for West Bank Palestinians to Turkey to start at end of August

Flights for West Bank Palestinians to Turkey to start at end of August
  • "We welcome efforts to facilitate travel for the Palestinian people," a US Embassy spokesperson told Reuters
  • But representatives of Palestinians, whose movement is routinely restricted by Israel, said they were not a party to the decision

JERUSALEM: Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank will be offered special flights from Ramon Airport, near the Red Sea resort city of Eilat, to destinations in Turkey, Israel’s Airports Authority said on Tuesday.
The move is Israel’s latest gesture to Palestinians, following pressure from the United States to ease travel for Palestinians as prospects for reviving long-stalled peace talks and establishing an independent Palestinian state appeared dim.
“We welcome efforts to facilitate travel for the Palestinian people,” a US Embassy spokesperson told Reuters.
But representatives of Palestinians, whose movement is routinely restricted by Israel, said they were not a party to the decision.
“Nobody consulted with us on this matter,” said Wasel Abu Yousef, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization. “What we seek is the return of Al-Quds International Airport to operate as the State of Palestine’s airport.”
Palestinians from areas Israel occupied in a 1967 war cannot fly from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport without special permission. They typically travel to Jordan to catch international flights, a trip that entails crossing through checkpoints and can take hours.
Under the pilot program, the flights will run twice a week starting at the end of August to Istanbul and Antalya on Turkish carriers Atlas and Pegasus and using Airbus A321 aircraft, the airports authority said.
These flights will not be offered to Palestinians from Gaza.
Ramon Airport, which opened in 2019, is about 300 km (185 miles) from Jerusalem and designed to take any planes re-routed from Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv.
Foreign carriers such as Ryanair, Wizzair and Lufthansa began to fly non-stop to older Eilat airports in 2015 during winter months after Israel offered airlines 60 euros ($61) per passenger brought on direct flights from abroad.
But the COVID-19 pandemic largely halted those flights.
The airports authority said that for the first time, summer flights to various destinations in Europe from Eilat would start in the coming days. They include Batumi, Georgia and Larnaca, Cyprus on Israeli carrier Arkia, and Warsaw and Katowice on Poland’s Enter Air.
Pegasus in October will fly Israelis to Turkey with four flights a week, the authority said.


Iran releases Iranian-French academic Adelkhah on furlough -lawyer

Iran releases Iranian-French academic Adelkhah on furlough -lawyer
Updated 09 August 2022

Iran releases Iranian-French academic Adelkhah on furlough -lawyer

Iran releases Iranian-French academic Adelkhah on furlough -lawyer
  • Adelkhah was sentenced in 2020 to five years in prison on national security charges
  • She was moved to house arrest later, but in January was returned to jail

DUBAI: Iran has released Iranian-French academic Fariba Adelkhah on furlough for five days, her lawyer told the Emtedad website on Tuesday, a day after Tehran and Washington wound up indirect talks in Vienna to revive a 2015 nuclear pact.
“We hope it (the furlough) will be extended,” Emtedad quoted Hojjat Kermani as saying.
Adelkhah, who is a resident of France and was arrested in 2019 while on a visit to Iran, was sentenced in 2020 to five years in prison on national security charges. She was moved to house arrest later, but in January was returned to jail.
Adelkab has denied the charges. France has called them “politically motivated” and repeatedly called for the release of Adelkhah, a researcher affiliated with Paris’s prestigious Sciences Po University.
Iran does not recognize dual nationality, saying the case is an Iranian domestic legal matter.
In March 2020, Iran released Adelkhah’s partner, French academic Roland Marchal, who was detained along with her, after France freed Iranian engineer Jalal Ruhollahnejad, detained over alleged violations of US sanctions against Tehran.


Turkish drone strike kills 4 in northeast Syria: Monitor

Turkish drone strike kills 4 in northeast Syria: Monitor
Ankara has launched successive military offensives in Syria. (File/AFP)
Updated 09 August 2022

Turkish drone strike kills 4 in northeast Syria: Monitor

Turkish drone strike kills 4 in northeast Syria: Monitor
  • Turkey has stepped up its drone strikes in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria since a July 19 summit with Iran and Russia failed to greenlight a fresh offensive, according to Kurdish officials and the Observatory

BEIRUT: A Turkish drone strike Tuesday killed at least four people in a northeast Syrian city held by Kurdish forces, the latest in a flurry of attacks, a war monitor said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack struck near a hospital in Qamishli, the defacto capital of a semi-autonomous Kurdish administration that runs large parts of the country’s northeast.
The four victims, all affiliated with the administration, were killed while they dug trenches near Turkey’s border in anticipation of a new offensive that Ankara has threatened to launch since May, the monitor said.
Ankara has launched successive military offensives in Syria. Most have targeted Kurdish militants that Ankara links to a group waging a decades-long insurgency against it.
Turkey has stepped up its drone strikes in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria since a July 19 summit with Iran and Russia failed to greenlight a fresh offensive, according to Kurdish officials and the Observatory.
A Turkish drone strike on Qamishli at the weekend killed four people, including two siblings, said the Observatory.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have counted at least 13 of their members killed in several Turkish attacks since July 19.
Syria’s conflict that began in March 2011 has killed nearly half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population.


Egyptian FM, Kazakh deputy FM discuss bilateral ties

Egyptian FM, Kazakh deputy FM discuss bilateral ties
Updated 09 August 2022

Egyptian FM, Kazakh deputy FM discuss bilateral ties

Egyptian FM, Kazakh deputy FM discuss bilateral ties
  • Shoukry praised Kazakhstan’s role in launching the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia
  • Tursunov emphasized the value that Kazakhstan places on relations with Egypt, and on the critical role that Cairo plays in the region

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry received Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Adil Tursunov in Cairo.

They discussed issues of common interest and ways to enhance bilateral relations. Shoukry praised Kazakhstan’s role in launching the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, which aims to enhance security and stability on the continent, particularly with regard to terrorism, drug trafficking and weapons of mass destruction.

He and Tursunov highlighted the significance of developing cooperation between their nations in various fields, following up on the phone call between their presidents in February.

Tursunov emphasized the value that Kazakhstan places on relations with Egypt, and on the critical role that Cairo plays in the region.


Egyptian, Israeli leaders hold talks after Gaza truce

Egyptian, Israeli leaders hold talks after Gaza truce
Updated 09 August 2022

Egyptian, Israeli leaders hold talks after Gaza truce

Egyptian, Israeli leaders hold talks after Gaza truce
  • Yair Lapid thanks Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for Cairo’s mediation

CAIRO: Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid held talks following Sunday night’s Cairo-brokered truce between Israel and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, where fighting last week left at least 44 Palestinians dead, including 15 children.

During their phone call, El-Sisi said it is crucial to build on the current calm and take immediate steps to improve living conditions in Gaza and support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Lapid reaffirmed Egypt’s role as a cornerstone for Middle East peace, expressing his gratitude for its effective mediation in recent days.

In a statement, Lapid said he and El-Sisi “talked about the importance of promoting and developing normalization between Israel and the countries of the region and the importance of dialogue for achieving stability in the region.”

They also discussed “important humanitarian issues for the two countries and the continuation of economic cooperation between them.”

The truce ended the worst fighting in Gaza since an 11-day war last year. Israel began its operation by assassinating an Islamic Jihad leader on Friday, and killed another of its leaders on Saturday.