The well-known by now Turkish research vessel Oruc Reis has been sailing across the Greek Continental Shelf since the August 10. The ship is accompanied by vessels of the Turkish Navy, in an area that Turkey is reportedly exploring until August 23, as announced through a controversial NAVTEX.
The Turkish Claim
The current situation indicates that the ship is unlawfully conducting research in an area that falls within the Greek Continental Shelf as defined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, even through Turkey unilaterally rejects this fact.
Turkey is claiming that the islands should not have the same rights as the land territory, denying the provisions of the UN Convention. The Greek side is internally trying to downplay the developing situation, as the major Greek Media are reporting that the Turkish research vessel is not actually conducting research activities, an assumption that is probably inaccurate.
Regardless of the actual activity of the ship, the very purpose of the Turkish presence in the suggested area, in the proximity of the recently declared Greek-Egyptian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), is not the research per se, but the establishment of a fait accompli; Ankara is aiming to gradually establish the perception that the presence of Turkish vessels in this area is something normal and should come unquestioned. Apparently, Athens is fully aware of the Turkish intentions.
Since the start of the crisis the Greek Armed Forces have been alarmed, and the Hellenic Navy is closely monitoring the route of Oruc Reis. The up-to-date developments clearly show, that albeit the robust military presence in the area, Athens wants to avoid by all means a military confrontation. At the same time Greece is trying to enhance its position and gain leverage in the expense of Turkey, through diplomatic channels and regional alliances, holding talks with countries with aligning interests in the Mediterranean.
France and Greece have undoubtedly tightened their relations in the most senior level over the last year. In terms of foreign policy it seems that Athens has found a major player in the European and international scene that would be mutually benefited by adopting a containment strategy towards Turkey.
It is not only the Turkish objectives in the Mediterranean that pose an obstacle to the vital interests of the French oil company, Total. The Turkish engagement in Libya should be perceived as a worrying involvement of third country in a place, where the French factor has been traditionally pulling the strings. The Turkish support to the Government of National Accord and the lifeline provided to Fayez al-Sarraj by President Erdogan, has been interpreted as a major setback for the French financial and security interests in the Sahel.
On the top of that, shortly after the horrifying Beirut blast, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Lebanon in an attempt to counterbalance the official visit of President Macron in the country. Cavusoglu promised Turkish citizenship to the Lebanese Turkmens and stated that significant Turkish aid would be provided to the fragmented country. These sings of Turkish expansion in Lebanon are constituting another unwelcome development for the French foreign policy.
In this context, the French-Greek aligning interests have been well-presented through the French involvement of French forces in the ongoing Mediterranean crisis. After a call between the Greek Prime Minister the French President on August 12, Emmanuel Macron announced through his Twitter account that the French military presence in Eastern Mediterranean would be boosted. In a clearly political message, President Macron tweeted this announcement in Greek. The following day, on August 13, the frigate ‘Lafayette’ and two Rafale fighter jets have been deployed the eastern Mediterranean and participated in a joint military exercise with the Hellenic Armed Forces.
At the same time Athens has also turned for support to Israel. Once again the energy security landscape of the area has set the foundation for an unofficial alliance between Cyprus, Egypt and Israel; an alliance where Greece would greatly fit indeed. Considering that the Turkish claims and political objectives consist a destabilizing framework for the aforementioned countries, the current situation in the Mediterranean has been a great opportunity for Greece to boost its ties with Israel.
In this context, the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, has carried out an urgent visit to Jerusalem, where he met with the Israeli Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu. Dendias’ visit has been a confirmation of the Israeli support to Greece in this developing incident with Turkey, something that has already been evident through tweets of the Israeli Embassy in Greece, and the son of the Israeli PM Yair Netanyahu.
Besides the mutual interests in the Mediterranean, one should also note Turkey’s emerging role as the self-declared protector of the Muslim world, has prompted political friction between Ankara and Tel Aviv over the Palestinian dispute. The rigid stance of Turkey in support of Palestine has provoked Israel several times in the past, while specific statements of high-ranking Turkish officials, and even by President Erdogan himself, have triggered a furious reaction from the side of Israel.
As another crisis is in the making, Greece is investing in regional alliances to counterbalance Turkey’s aggressive policy. The success and efficiency of this strategy has yet to be seen.