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.


Lebanon to submit final remarks over Israeli maritime border after US mediation

Lebanon to submit final remarks over Israeli maritime border after US mediation
Updated 03 October 2022

Lebanon to submit final remarks over Israeli maritime border after US mediation

Lebanon to submit final remarks over Israeli maritime border after US mediation
  • Specialists were assigned the task of translating the English proposal for the president

BEIRUT: Lebanese officials are presenting a united front in mediations with the US over the country’s maritime border with Israel, with President Michael Aoun saying on Monday that Lebanon would submit its final remarks within days.

However, in order to avoid fears of normalization with Israel, the PM said that Lebanon would avoid signing a direct deal with its neighbor.

Aoun added: “The postulates and things it (Lebanon) wants are complete in the proposal of the US mediator Amos Hochstein regarding the demarcation of the southern maritime borders,” adding: “Some remarks will be submitted to Hochstein.”

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said after meeting with Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Monday that he “had some remarks and the technical committee took them fully into consideration,” adding that “Lebanon will send its response to the US mediator tomorrow.”

Mikati said: “Things are on the right track in the file of the maritime border demarcation and Lebanon’s stance is unified.”

Aoun presided over a technical consultative meeting that examined Hochstein’s written proposal over the southern maritime border. He then held a meeting with Berri and Mikati, joined by the technical and consultative team.

Berri said: “The stance is unified and the result is more than satisfactory,” adding that the US proposal took Lebanon’s requests into consideration.

Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab, who has led negotiations with the US mediator since the beginning of talks, said: “Lebanon will submit its remarks to Hochstein tomorrow at the latest and work is under way speedily.”

Bou Saab added: “We did not give any response, but remarks, and the underlying gaps are now minimal.”

He said: “Lebanon has obtained its full rights in the Qana field. The remarks that we made are legal and rational from a right holder’s point of view. If the remarks are taken into consideration as agreed, the deal will be signed in a matter of days. The disputed areas remain to be settled. We do not recognize the Israeli enemy and we will not co-sign any deal or convention. The US mediator was keen on respecting that and some arrangements were made for the signature.

“The Israeli enemy knows Lebanon’s strength. Talks between Lebanon and Israel are based on a balance stemming from ‘the army, the people and the resistance’ equation, in addition to the unified Lebanese stance.”

In its first response to the US proposal, Hezbollah, through parliamentary bloc chief Mohammed Raad, said that it “will not overlook Lebanon’s rights,” adding that “despite the border demarcation, the conflict with Israel will continue to exist.”

US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea handed the US mediator’s proposal to the Lebanese president, parliament speaker and prime minister last Saturday. The proposal was also presented to Israel, so that both parties can add remarks in preparation for the next stage of negotiations.

According to people familiar with the draft deal and the ongoing negotiations, the deal serves as a settlement between the Lebanese and Israeli parties. It implies sharing the disputed area based on Line 23 and postponing discussions over the land point from which the maritime border demarcation advances to the land border demarcation phase.

Specialists were assigned the task of translating the English proposal for the president, the parliament speaker and the prime minister, as well as thoroughly verifying its texts, figures and attached coordinates.

An official source familiar with the negotiations said: “Lebanon will not sign any direct deal with Israel concerning the settlement being agreed upon and the deal will not be submitted to the Parliament for codification, as it violates the normalization principle.”

The source added: “Moreover, the deal won’t be submitted to the Cabinet for approval. Instead, Lebanon will submit a letter issued by specific parties in the country to the UN including Lebanon’s approval on the maritime demarcation.

“This is what Israel should also do so it (the deal) can be adopted in international law.”

Two separate copies of the US proposal are expected to be signed at UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura. One copy will be signed by Lebanon and another signed by Israel in order to avoid concerns over normalization.

Information was leaked from the US proposal as a result of sharp Israeli political divisions, with parliamentary elections in the country set for Nov. 1. The leak showed discussions over compensation and security safeguards in the event that new gas reserves are discovered in the Qana field.

An Israeli mini cabinet is set to hold a meeting next Thursday to approve the draft and respond to the US in light of the Lebanese stance.

The US State Department said that Hochstein “continues to be fully involved to finalize discussions.”

It added: “We presented a US proposal on a final agreement to demarcate the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel, and we welcome the consultative spirit between both parties to reach a solution.

“A permanent settlement is possible.”


UK summons Iran’s top diplomat in Britain over crackdown on protests

UK summons Iran’s top diplomat in Britain over crackdown on protests
Updated 38 min 59 sec ago

UK summons Iran’s top diplomat in Britain over crackdown on protests

UK summons Iran’s top diplomat in Britain over crackdown on protests
  • “The violence levelled at protesters in Iran by the security forces is truly shocking”: British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly
  •  The White House also denounced the crackdown by Iranian security forces against peaceful protests in Iran

LONDON: Britain’s foreign ministry on Monday said it had summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires, Iran’s most senior diplomat in Britain, over the crackdown on protests following the death of Mahsa Amini in custody.
“The violence levelled at protesters in Iran by the security forces is truly shocking,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.
“Today we have made our view clear to the Iranian authorities – instead of blaming external actors for the unrest, they should take responsibility for their actions and listen to the concerns of their people.”

The White House on Monday denounced the crackdown by Iranian security forces against peaceful protests in Iran, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
“We’re alarmed and appalled by reports of security authorities’ responding to university students’ peaceful protests with violence and mass arrests,” she told reporters traveling with President Joe Biden to Puerto Rico.

Jean-Pierre said university students in Iran are “rightly enraged” by her death and that the weekend crackdowns are the type of events that prompt young people in Iran to leave the country “and seek dignity and opportunity elsewhere.”


Iran supreme leader blames US, Israel for Mahsa Amini protests

Iran supreme leader blames US, Israel for Mahsa Amini protests
Updated 03 October 2022

Iran supreme leader blames US, Israel for Mahsa Amini protests

Iran supreme leader blames US, Israel for Mahsa Amini protests
  • Iran said that nine foreign nationals from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland were arrested

PARIS: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday accused arch-foes the United States and Israel of fomenting the wave of nationwide unrest sparked by outrage over the death of Mahsa Amini.
“I say clearly that these riots and the insecurity were engineered by America and the occupying, false Zionist regime, as well as their paid agents, with the help of some traitorous Iranians abroad,” the supreme leader said.
Amini, 22, was pronounced dead on September 16, days after the notorious morality police detained the Kurdish Iranian for allegedly breaching rules forcing women to wear hijab headscarves and modest clothes.
Anger over Amini’s death has sparked the biggest wave of protests to rock the Islamic republic in almost three years, which saw security forces in Tehran crack down on hundreds of university students overnight.
In his first public comments since Amini’s death, 83-year-old Khamenei stressed that police must “stand up to criminals” and that “whoever attacks the police leaves the people defenseless against criminals, thugs, thieves.”
“The death of the young woman broke our hearts,” said Khamenei. “But what is not normal is that some people, without proof or an investigation, have made the streets dangerous, burned the Qur'an, removed hijabs from veiled women and set fire to mosques and cars.”
Concern grew over a night-time crackdown on students at Tehran’s prestigious Sharif University of Technology where, local media reported, riot police carrying steel pellet guns used tear gas and paintball guns against hundreds of students.
“Woman, life, liberty” the students shouted, as well as “students prefer death to humiliation,” Mehr news agency reported.
Iran’s science minister, Mohammad Ali Zolfigol, came to speak to the students in a bid to calm the situation, the report said.
Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights posted videos apparently showing police on motorcycles chasing students running through an underground car park and taking away detainees whose heads were covered in black cloth bags.
In one clip, which IHR said was taken at a Tehran metro station, a crowd can be heard chanting: “Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid! We are all together!“
“Hard to bear what is happening at #SharifUniversity in #Iran,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock tweeted. “The courage of the Iranians is incredible. And the regime’s brute force is an expression of sheer fear of the power of education and freedom.”
Protests were also reported at other universities, including in the central city of Isfahan, and unconfirmed reports by a student group on Twitter said dozens had been arrested in the capital.
Mehr news agency said that Sharif University of Technology had “announced that due to recent events and the need to protect students ... all classes will be held virtually from Monday.”
Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of stoking the protests and last week said nine foreign nationals — including from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland — had been arrested.
The parents of Italian woman Alessia Piperno, 30, from Rome, said they lost contact with her after speaking to her on Wednesday — her birthday — but then received a phone call on Sunday.
“They arrested me. I am in a prison in Tehran. Please help me,” she told them, according to Il Messaggero, Rome’s daily newspaper.
She added: “I’m fine but there are people here who say they have been inside for months and for no reason. I fear I won’t be let out again. Help me.”
Italy’s foreign ministry has so far made no comment on the identity of the Italian held.
Canada, meanwhile, said it had imposed new sanctions against Iran over its “gross human rights violations,” especially citing “the egregious actions committed by Iran’s so-called ‘Morality Police’.”
“Canada applauds the courage and actions of Iranians and will stand by them as they fight for their rights and dignity,” said Foreign Minister Melanie Joly.
At least 92 protesters have been killed so far in the Mahsa Amini rallies, said IHR, which has been working to assess the death toll despite Internet outages and blocks on WhatsApp, Instagram and other online services.
Amnesty International said earlier it had confirmed 53 deaths, after Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said last week that “around 60” people had died.
The chief of riot police in Marivan, Kurdistan province, died of his wounds Sunday after being shot during “riots,” state television said — the 12th death reported among the security forces since September 16.
An additional 41 people died in clashes Friday in Iran’s southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province, bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan, IHR reported earlier, citing local sources.
Those protests were sparked by accusations a police chief in the region had raped a teenage girl of the Baluch Sunni minority, the rights group said.

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Egypt: About 90 heads of state confirmed for COP27 climate summit

Egypt: About 90 heads of state confirmed for COP27 climate summit
Updated 03 October 2022

Egypt: About 90 heads of state confirmed for COP27 climate summit

Egypt: About 90 heads of state confirmed for COP27 climate summit

CAIRO: About 90 heads of state have confirmed attendance at November’s COP27 climate negotiations in Egypt where they will address issues including energy transition and food security at opening sessions, a senior Egyptian official said on Monday.
“We’ve received a large number of confirmations from around the world, I think the last count was about 90 heads of state but the numbers keep coming in,” said Wael Aboulmagd, special representative for the COP27 presidency, without mentioning specific countries.
“What we’ve decided is that our heads of state section will not be a traditional plenary-only type of affair, but rather there will be six roundtables ... for heads of state to actually engage in a discussion on the issue at hand.”
Egypt is taking over the presidency of the UN climate talks from Britain, and will host the talks from Nov. 6-18 in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Topics for leaders’ roundtables held on Nov. 7-8 would include the development of green hydrogen, water and food security, achieving a just energy transition toward renewables, and vulnerable communities, Aboulmagd said.
The themes reflect some of the Egypt’s priorities as it tries to better promote the interests of developing nations and their need for financing to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
“We strongly believe that we need all the political will and momentum and direction coming from heads of state to push the process forward, because it has become a very, very adversarial process,” Aboulmagd said.
Egypt is working on how to include “loss and damage” — compensation to climate-vulnerable countries already suffering from climate-related weather extremes — on the summit’s formal agenda.
At last year’s COP26 in Glasgow, the United States and the European Union rejected calls for a fund to compensate for such losses.
At a pre-COP meeting of heads of delegations last month, “no one seemed to say we’re against an agenda item,” said Aboulmagd.


Swedish royal family to visit Jordan

Swedish royal family to visit Jordan
Updated 03 October 2022

Swedish royal family to visit Jordan

Swedish royal family to visit Jordan
  • The Swedish Dialogue Institute for MENA will be established during the trip

AMMAN: King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden are to visit Jordan from Nov. 15 to 17 on the invitation of King Abdullah II, the Jordan News Agency reported.

The royal couple will be accompanied by a Swedish government delegation as well as private-sector representatives.

The visit will seek to further boost cooperation between the two countries on regional and multilateral issues, including the environment, climate change, comprehensive sustainable development, the participation of women and youth, and the promotion of bilateral trade and investment.

During the trip, the Swedish Dialogue Institute for the Middle East and North Africa will be established, and the embassy will be relocated to a new building.

In a statement on Sunday, the Swedish Embassy in Amman said the king and queen’s visit aimed to strengthen the two countries’ deep-rooted and historical ties.