Spanish-Turkish military cooperation revives Greek concerns

Athens is again voicing its concern over Spain's pursuit of enhanced military cooperation with Greece's regional rival, and NATO ally, Turkey.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias made his opposition to such cooperation heard, following talks with visiting Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares in Athens.

“I expressed concern over Spain's possible intention to strengthen its military cooperation with Turkey,” Dendias said on Tuesday. He said European Union members have agreed not to export military technology that could be used “for aggressive acts or regional destabilisation”.

Dendias added that Albares offered “a clear position” that Spain will act within the framework of decisions by the EU, to which both Greece and Spain belong.

But despite possible repercussions on Spanish relations with EU and Mediterranean countries, that are sensitive to Ankara's regional ambitions, Madrid has been promoting robust military cooperation with Turkey.

"We are carrying out numerous projects with Spain, especially in the defence industry," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, last month, during a meeting in Ankara with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

"Given the potential of our countries, we wish to further deepen our cooperation in this field," he added.

Madrid and Ankara announced in November their agreement to work on building an aircraft carrier and new submarines for the Turkish armed forces. They also said they intended to "undertake joint projects on unmanned ground and naval air systems", a joint statement said. "There are many things we can do together in defence," emphasised the Turkish president.

Giannis Oikonomou, spokesman for the Greek government, at the time voiced Athens' unhappiness over the Turkish-Spanish ties. "We will keep an eye on the development of the agreements. It is clear that the member states of the European Union are subject to the decisions of the European Council regarding relations with Turkey and its provocations and violations of international law," he said.

"The Spanish prime minister should have taken into account the general position of the European Council," added Okionomou.

Greece has embarked on a project to modernise its air force and navy, with major purchases from France, citing concerns over Turkish military activities. Relations between Greece and Turkey have deteriorated over the past year and a half over undersea gas exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean and migration.

“Turkey is a destabilising factor in the eastern Mediterranean,” Dendias said, on Tuesday.

Considering Ankara's economic expansionism in the East Med region and its projection of military power in the MENA region, in places such as Libya, Syria and Iraq, Turkish military moves are viewed with suspicion by many in Europe and the Arab world.

Ankara's application for membership is also opposed by many EU members including France and Austria.

The Spanish premier has nonetheless supported Ankara's bid to join the EU. "Turkey is not just a neighbour of Spain, it is an ally, a partner," he was quoted as saying.

As with the rest of Turkey's regional ambitions, Ankara's apologists are often eager to add a historical layer to Turkey's foreign alliances.

Turkish analyst Hacı Mehmet Boyraz wrote in the pro-Erdoğan newspaper Daily Sabah last November that, "the close relationship established between the Ottoman sultan and the king of Spain through ambassadors in 1783, a turning point in terms of Turkish-Spanish relations, has survived almost fully intact until today."

(A version of this article was originally published by the Arab Weekly and is reproduced by permission.

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