The US and its Western allies continue to hold Greece in warm embrace despite Athens playing a destabilising role in NATO.
Turkish-Greek relations are once again experiencing a downturn due to Athens’ repeated hostile and provocative moves. The so-called ‘dogfights’ over the Aegean Sea have been somewhat customary between Turkish and Greek fighter pilots for years but there is a visible uptick in Greek violations of Turkish airspace since last year.
The Greek hostilities have now begun to cross dangerous margins – the latest incident of Greece locking radar on Turkish F-16s, which were performing their duties as part of a NATO mission, acts as a strong indicator of Athen's growing recklessness.
To cap it off, on August 23, Turkish F-16s undertaking a mission in international airspace were harassed by Greece's Russian-made S-300 air defence systems stationed in Crete. The Turkish Defence Ministry is reportedly in the process of providing the radar logs of the harassment to NATO’s Secretary-General and the defence ministries of the alliance.
Although the harassment constitutes a clear ‘hostile act’ against Türkiye based on NATO’s rules of engagement, it is not as clear whether NATO will find Greece guilty and duly condemn the act. At a time when NATO’s solidarity is crucial, given the alliance’s desired expansion with the inclusion of Sweden and Finland and the ongoing war in Ukraine, NATO is not likely to pin the blame on Greece or at least to augment the escalation by taking a stance.
What happened after a naval incident between Turkish and French vessels in the Mediterranean Sea on June 10, 2020, and the aftermath within the context of the war in Libya is quite illustrative. Paris accused the Turkish navy of a ‘hostile act’ against the French frigate Courbet, which was allegedly illuminated by the targeting radar of a Turkish warship.
Ankara responded by providing relevant footage and data on the incident via a presentation by the Turkish ambassador to the French Senate as well as to NATO, which demonstrated that it was actually the French frigate that engaged in a provocative act against the Turkish vessel. However, after a probe into the incident, NATO decided to keep the findings of the investigation confidential by deeming them too sensitive to discuss in public.
Therefore, keeping NATO solidarity intact and de-escalating between two allies by avoiding a definitive stance prevailed over establishing the truth. As NATO’s harmony and solidarity in its south-eastern flank are arguably more important in the context of the war in Ukraine, it would be no surprise if NATO looks the other way this time, too.
Here lies the very structural and fundamental asymmetry between the instruments of Türkiye and its NATO allies at their disposal in cases of conflict or standoff. Whilst the Turkish side of the story is rarely included in the mainstream international media coverage of these specific incidents, ‘the other side’s’ version of the story becomes the dominant or even the only narrative, disproportionately shaping international public opinion in a certain direction.
Because of this ‘natural barrier’ Türkiye in its scramble for making its case, Ankara can only get its message through NATO’s relevant bodies. Whereas Türkiye’s narrative is heard only within a closed circuit at an elite and institutional level, the competing narratives are easily publicised and widely disseminated, creating an overly favourable public perception of the ‘anti-Türkiye’ narrative. This Achilles heel of Türkiye is one of the main reasons for the reckless and escalatory behaviour of its NATO allies in cases of confrontation.
Greece’s latest hostile acts towards Türkiye are motivated by a mixture of the mentioned Achilles heel of Türkiye and the specific context of the war in Ukraine. A closer look at Athens’ Türkiye-related activities, especially since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, would reveal the former’s strategic goal: overshadowing Ankara’s rising profile and improved image in the West within the context of the war in Ukraine and denying it the ability to reap the diplomatic fruits.
By ramping up its provocative moves to the extent of locking on its ally’s jets, Athens is yearning for a knee-jerk reaction from Turkish military personnel who are at the line of contact with the Greek military assets. Such a reaction from the Turkish military, or even an accident, would be a boon for Athens to evoke the image of an aggressor for Türkiye in the West, but not just a ‘random aggressor’, a specifically ‘Russia-like aggressor’.
Athens aims to build an argument using the 'Westward looking, oppressed Ukraine" as a binary to caste Türkiye as a "non-Western" power that seeks to attack Greece just like "barbarian Russia" attacked Ukraine.
Drawing parallels between Türkiye and Russia is an easy tactic to gain the attention of Western leaders and portray Ankara as an aggressor should any flare-up occur between the two allies.
Greece's anti-Türkiye narrative is entirely flawed as Ankara has openly opposed Russia's invasion of Crimea more than any other country and has played a role of a successful arbiter in the Ukraine-Russia conflict while maintaining diplomatic ties with both sides.
Türkiye's shuttle diplomacy eventually bore fruit as the warring sides agreed to sign the critical Grain Corridor deal in July, which helped address the risk of mass starvation worldwide.
In light of Ankara's accomplishments in making the world a safer place, Greece is unable to hide its envy and instead resorts to blunt, primitive methods of harassing its neighbour, which is fully capable of putting the Greek leadership in its place.
However, if Athens cannot achieve ‘an accident’ as a result of its provocations, the fact that ‘incidents’ take place between the Greek and Turkish militaries is good enough for the former. At the end of the day, this is a war fought in the realm of images, perceptions, and public opinions. And mere ‘incidents’ taking place between Türkiye and other NATO allies are enough to create spanners for Ankara, which is already problematised by some of its allies as ‘the problematic member’ of the alliance, due to its unique way of maintaining its neutrality between Ukraine and Russia.
Athens is also aware of the strong collective desire—which is not disguised at all—in the Western capitals to strong-arm Ankara into changing its current policy towards Moscow and fully band-wagoning the West.
The discontent of both Washington and Brussels with Ankara’s “too close” ties with Moscow, gives Athens a carte blanche for escalating against Ankara all it wants. Regardless of the extent of the incompatibility of Athens’ behaviour with the spirit of alliance, it knows that politics matters more than law under the current circumstances.
Since NATO is not in a position to play the judge or the referee between Türkiye and Greece in legal terms, it is up to the political will of the other members of the alliance to rein in the latter. And at a time when Ankara does not ‘behave’, it would not be bad if it ‘takes some beating’ at the hands of Athens.
Athens is aware of this ‘mood’ in the West, and it is enjoying and exploiting a rare overlap of two adverse trends for Ankara. Ankara’s long-term and structural handicap in winning over the international public opinion in cases of a stand-off with its Western allies is now coupled with its contextual disadvantage within the context of the war in Ukraine as its Western allies do not think Ankara’s neutrality is ‘good enough’, it needs to do more.
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