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Apr 15 2019

Facing great strategic opportunity, Greece must remain calm - analysis

As US-Turkey tensions rise, Greece and Cyprus could emerge as key substitutes for American interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, but caution is necessary, said an analysis in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini.

“Greece and Cyprus have so far played their cards well, but they should not get ahead of themselves. The messages coming from the United States and Israel are strong and positive,” Kathimerini columnist Alexis Papachelas wrote on Sunday.

He pointed to two bills introduced in US Congress last week that aim to sanction Turkish officials for detaining U.S. citizens and staff and halt the transfer of F-35 fighter jets if Ankara takes delivery of a Russian missile defence system. The latter bill increases military support for Turkey’s neighbors, including the lifting of a four-decade arms embargo on Cyprus.

These bills “have considerable impact and historical significance,” said Papachelas. “The perception gaining ground in influential circles is that Greece (and, in part, Cyprus) could evolve into a front-line state and also substitute Turkey as far as American interests are concerned. In other words, officials are openly discussing whether the US could switch from Incirlik to a base in Greece.”

Greek-American military cooperation is also on the rise, he added, as U.S. military vessels are for the first time sailing regularly around Greece’s Dodecanese islands and U.S. aircraft in joint drills with Greece are flying in areas whose jurisdiction is challenged by Turkey.

“Athens can and must pursue other ambitious goals, including the transfer of a large part of F-16 production to Greece, to the supply of modern equipment on very good terms, if not for free,” said Papachelas, also calling for patience.

“Even in Washington, East Med experts do not have a clear idea of how things will evolve,” he said. “The more pressure Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan feels on a political and geopolitical level, the more dangerous the situation will become.”

Papachelas said Greece had thus far done well in this situation, as Athens has been consistent in its positions. But he urged the government to remain calm following the departure of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and the possible election defeat of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ ruling SYRIZA party.

“The next government will be called upon to make historic decisions,” he said. “Until we get there, a good deal of prudence is advisable.”