The energy cooperation deal signed between Turkey and Libya in Tripoli last week did not come as a surprise, but was the culmination of Ankara’s strategic choice to open a new area of contention with Athens.
With the confidence of a regional power, Turkey is bolstering its presence in Greece’s soft underbelly, leading to three scenarios about what Turkey’s plans for the region entail on the way ahead.
The first scenario is that Turkish drill ships will get to work in the Gulf of Sidra (or even beyond), without, however, encroaching on the claimed or delineated Greek exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In other words, the Turkish drill ships or seismic survey vessels will not come near Crete. This will keep the tension at a tolerable level and prevent an escalation into a military crisis.
The second is that Ankara will try to challenge Greece’s sovereign rights south of Crete (i.e. near the prefecture of Hania), but Turkish ships will still avoid the delineated Greece-Egypt EEZ. This raises important questions regarding the national red line. Is it at 6 nautical miles, at 12 nautical miles or is it at the claimed Greek EEZ?
The third scenario stipulates that Ankara will decide to send a drill ship into the Greek-Egyptian EEZ with a warship escort in order to impose the provisions of its so-called maritime borders memorandum with Libya. This scenario may be coupled with a simultaneous diversion in the Aegean or Cyprus.
Under the present circumstances, it is also the one that is least likely. As long as Greek-Egyptian defense cooperation remains close, the Turkish side will avoid disrupting ties with Cairo.
Athens has designed a preventive strategy that largely concerns Western Thrace, the eastern Aegean and Cyprus. Up until now, the Libyan Sea held little interest for the Greek side, in part because it has underestimated Libya’s geopolitical and geoeconomic importance. Now, however, we no longer have the luxury of being able to ignore what’s going on in the beleaguered North African country.
The circumstances demand that Greece draws up a strategy for the Libyan Sea that will account for all the different parameters at play in the region.
Generally speaking, prevention includes a strong psychological dimension that entails a fear of defeat. In practical terms, the one doing the defending needs to convince his rival that the cost of an act of aggression far outweighs the potential benefits.
The credibility of such a threat relies on two pillars. The first concerns the available military means to punish the attacking side, if necessary. In this particular case, Greece has the strategic and tactical advantage because of its proximity to the maritime area being disputed by Turkey.
From a military standpoint, the presence of the Turkish fleet south of Crete would be a very risky business.
The second pillar has to do with the political willpower to use military might if this is required. This means that the political and military leadership needs to send messages of determination and confidence to the other side.
Most importantly, though, there needs to be absolute clarity about the red lines laid down by the country, so the other side knows what will and will not be tolerated. There is no room for generalized and vague terms from Athens given the magnitude of the threat.
If the other side does not cross these national red lines, there’s hope that the tension will ebb, and Greek-Turkish relations will gradually be restored, that we will find a peaceful and civilized way to settle our only difference.
If Ankara does cross these red lines, Athens will have to respond in a clear and determined manner in order to protect the country’s sovereign rights.
Turkey appears to be planning to lay claim over the assumed and delineated Greek EEZ and ultimately cut the country off from the Eastern Mediterranean – and that is something no Greek government can allow.
Emmanuel (Manos) Karagiannis is an associate professor at King’s College London and at the University of Macedonia. His book “Prevention and Defense” is due to be released soon by the Papadopoulos Publishing Company.