Turkey and Greece ratchet up stress within the Mediterranean

WHEN Recep Tayyip Erdogan travelled to Greece late final 12 months, the primary such journey by a Turkish president in additional than six many years, hopes surfaced that he and his hosts may hammer out a system to scale back tensions. The previous couple of months have disenchanted the optimists. Moderately than coming to grips with previous grievances, Turkey and Greece are creating new ones as a substitute—within the skies and within the seas.

On March 27th a Turkish courtroom denied bail to 2 Greek troopers arrested weeks earlier after crossing the border with Turkey. The troopers say they strayed into Turkish territory due to thick snow and fog. Turkish prosecutors have charged them with espionage: Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, in contrast Mr Erdogan to a sultan and accused him of turning the lads into hostages. Turkey has repeatedly leaned on Greece to extradite eight Turkish troopers who fled throughout the Aegean after a botched coup in 2016.

With assist from rabble-rousers on either side, disputes over airspace and maritime borders, which have poisoned relations between Greece and Turkey for many years, are doing so once more. A row over a pair of uninhabited islands within the Aegean, which almost prompted the 2 NATO allies to go to battle within the 1990s, flared up in February when a Turkish ship touring the realm collided with a Greek vessel. Extra lately, Greek fighter jets intercepted a Turkish drone hovering above Rhodes. The accompanying polemics haven’t helped. Turkey’s prime minister has warned the Greeks to cease “pretending to be pirates”. Mr Erdogan, desirous to maintain a nationalist frenzy forward of elections scheduled for subsequent 12 months, invoked a Turkish victory over an invading Greek military in 1922. On April 4th the Greek defence minister mentioned his nation would “crush” any Turkish incursion and introduced the deployment of seven,000 extra troops to the border.

The invention of natural-gas reserves within the jap Mediterranean, as soon as hailed as a key to peace within the area, has raised the stakes, pitting Turkey towards numerous international locations along with Greece. Turkey has already disrupted plans by Cyprus to develop a few of its offshore fields. Earlier this 12 months, its warships blocked a rig owned by an Italian vitality firm from drilling for gasoline east of the island, which is split between the internationally recognised Greek-Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish-occupied north. (Turkey, the one UN nation to not recognise Cyprus, doesn’t acknowledge its maritime borders.) Turkey has additionally clashed with Egypt, which lately agreed to develop some gasfields in co-operation with Cyprus.

Plans to construct a pipeline delivering Israeli and Cypriot gasoline to Greece, already below business scrutiny, now face rising geopolitical tensions, says Matt Bryza, a former White Home official. A challenge connecting Israel with Turkey can be on ice, with the 2 governments at odds over the scenario in Gaza and the standing of Jerusalem. (At current, Israel appears extra more likely to export its offshore gasoline to Jordan and thru Egypt.) Turkey’s gunboat diplomacy is deepening its isolation. “There’s a brand new axis rising between Egypt, Israel, Cyprus and Greece to confront Turkey, which they imagine is breaching worldwide regulation,” says Mehmet Ogutcu, an vitality professional. “Turkey feels there’s a conspiracy to chop it off from the Mediterranean.” A violent confrontation at sea, accidentally or design, might solely be a matter of time.

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