Athens sees Cairo as a foil to Ankara

The Greek government sees last week’s signing of a preliminary hydrocarbon exploration agreement between Turkey and the Tripoli-based Libyan government of Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah as a possible prelude to aggressive moves by Turkey to dispute its sovereignty over parts of the Mediterranean, most likely south of Crete.

To forestall such moves or mitigate their intensity and effect, Athens is looking to its allies, both inside and outside the European Union. Already, the European Commission and countries such as France and Germany have declared that the Libyan-Turkish deal does not bind Greece because it directly clashes with its rights and interests. Within bitterly divided Libya itself, the agreement is opposed by the Benghazi-based Parliament. Egypt, a country directly south of Greece and, like it, in the way of non-neighboring Libya and Turkey, is also affected.

Egypt and Greece signed a deal delimiting their maritime jurisdiction zones after the similar, legally questionable Turkish-Libyan agreement of 2018, the basis of which is Turkey’s claim that islands, notably Crete, cannot have their own continental shelf.

Practically, the hydrocarbons deal means that Libya can invite Turkey to search for oil and gas in “its” zone, south of Crete. This would be an escalation, compared to Turkey’s similar forays in the Aegean during the summer of 2020. Athens believes an Egyptian naval presence in the area, perhaps as part of joint exercises, could help counter Turkey’s moves.

Athens is also concerned that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, facing a difficult reelection bid next year, will choose the interim between the, very likely, two Greek elections, also in 2023, for a sharp escalation.

The government would like all political parties to agree to keeping Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos in any caretaker government that may take over between elections so they can manage a potential crisis.

This article was originally published in Kathimerini and re-published here with permission.

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