Erdogan Turkey Greece
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a hospital's opening ceremony, in Istanbul, on September 5, 2020. Erdogan on Saturday warned Greece to enter talks over disputed eastern Mediterranean territorial claims or face the consequences. Image Credit: AP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to be gambling away his country’s stability and economic security with his persistent sabre-rattling. His arrogance has blinded him of the geographical and political facts on the ground by threatening military action against Greece.

The war of words between Turkey, on one side, and Greece and Cyprus, on the other, has been raging for months over oil and gas exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean. All sides have deployed naval and air forces to assert their competing claims in the region. Turkey is prospecting the eastern Mediterranean seabed for energy reserves in an area claimed by Greece as its continental shelf. The two countries are members of the Nato.

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However, senior Nato members Italy and France support Greece in the dispute and the European Union, of which Greece and Cyprus are members, has threatened possible sanctions against Turkey over its “illegal” actions in the area.

On Saturday, the Turkish media reported that Ankara was moving dozens of tanks and troop carriers to the Greek border. The reports came as Erdogan raised the stakes with more aggressive rhetoric. Referring to the disputed terrestrial claim of Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, he said: “They are going to understand that Turkey has the political, economic and military power to tear up the immoral maps and documents imposed.” He threatened Greece with “painful experience ... in the field.”

The spat is dangerous

The row between Turkey and Greece is potentially the most dangerous in decades. It comes at a time when Turkey is undergoing a severe economic crisis with the national currency, the lira, tumbling to a record low.

The Turkish opposition says that Erdogan is trying to distract the people from the country’s economic problems and is desperately counting on their national sentiments by creating ‘external enemies’ with military conflicts abroad. He also seeks to bolster his one-man rule, weakening Turkey’s democracy in the process.

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Turkey is entangled in more than one conflict in the Middle East. It has intervened in the Libyan civil war by sending troops, mercenaries and weapons in violation of an international embargo, to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord. The Erdogan government is also involved in military operations in Syria and northern Iraq. All this comes from a government that previously declared a policy of ‘zero problems’ with neighbours.

Erdogan’s gamble is bound to backfire. The international community has had enough of his bullying tactics. If he seeks a military solution to the Greece crisis, that will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.