Turkey’s military ambitions in East Med, Middle East could extend to Greece  - analyst

Turkey’s military activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East regions could extend to a confrontation with neighbouring Greece, a political expert wrote in an op-ed published by Greek newspaper Kathimerini on Tuesday.

Signs point to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan adopting a strategy developed by “arch-nationalist” military officials, called the “Blue Homeland,” said Henri J. Barkey, a professor at LeHigh University and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The military doctrine “envisages the domination of the Aegean, most of the Mediterranean and of the Black Sea”, which Barkey says is the reason Turkey has invested in expanding and updating its navy.

Ongoing tensions between Greece and Turkey over a territorial dispute on offshore gas and oil claims in the Eastern Mediterranean were further exacerbated after Ankara signed a maritime demarcation deal with Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA) in November, intended to give Turkey extended access for hydrocarbon drilling rights in the region.

Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, which are seeking to build a pipeline carrying gas to Europe across those waters together with Israel, have said the agreement is illegal. 

After the maritime agreement, Turkey gained a foothold in war-torn Libya after providing substantial military support to the GNA in its fight against General Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army, which is backed by Russia, France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, among others.

Barkey cited cases of Turkey’s expanding regional footprint in Syria, where a series of Turkish military operations have been carried out to battle armed Kurdish forces that Ankara considers threats to national security.

“Turkish victories in Syria and Libya have been made possible by Washington and Europe’s unwillingness to stand up to Erdoğan, which only feeds his sense of invincibility,” he said.

Erdoğan’s confidence in earlier military activities in the region could inspire him to “decide this is a good time to challenge Greece”, an endeavour that would gain the president public support in Turkey, Barkey said.

“The Blue Homeland doctrine makes it clear that Turkey does not recognize the post-World War I arrangements over the Aegean,” he said.

“Turkey claims many Greek islands and Greece’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). There have been hints about drilling for gas near the Greek island of Crete,” the political expert added.

Barkey was referring to the Eastern Mediterranean lots proposed in applications by Turkish Petroleum’s (TPAO) for a gas exploration permit, some of which included sites within or beyond six nautical miles off the coasts of the Greek islands of Crete, Kasos, Karpathos and Rhodes.

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