Our friend Professor Mallinson has sent us the following very interesting article, based on his own research on Turkish claims to the tiny Greek island of Gavdos, south of Crete. This claim is the most ‘crazy”’one formulated by Turkey on the Greek islands. It seems like a complete aberration, but not devoid of strategic meaning, as shown by the recent agreement on maritime zones signed between Turkey and the Tripoli administration in Libya. By this agreement, Turkey claims nearly half of the Eastern Mediterranean’s maritime zone, disregarding a great number of small and also very great (like Crete) islands.
Professor Mallinson describes correctly both the lack of serious will on the part of the Greek elite to defend its state, and the fact that Greece’s NATO ‘allies’ usually turn a blind eye to Turkey’s actions. This is an accurate description of the past. But will things remain the same? It is probable that they won’t, and this for two main reasons.
First, the Greek ‘system’ is now facing the combined results of ten years of economic and social disaster and humiliation imposed by Germany, the EU and the IMF, of Turkish threats and of the continuous pressure of refugees and immigrant flows from Turkey directed to Greece. It is maybe not very far from the point of rupture and unpredictability. We simply do not know how it will react faced with a new and bigger Turkish provocation, especially Turkish drills near Greek islands.
Second, there are probably extremist forces inside the international elite which are pushing, through very unorthodox and unconventional means, towards more destabilization in both Middle East and Europe. They need more chaos and war in the Middle East, they want the decomposition of the EU to smaller, less powerful regions.
A military conflict between Greece and Turkey can be in their interest. It will damage very seriously Greece, it will damage very seriously Turkey and its ambitions of “independence”, and it will deliver a heavy blow to the EU, incapable of facing such a challenge. This is only one of various possible scenarios, given the explosive situation in the Middle East, the crisis of the EU and the ‘civil war’ between ‘globalizers’” and ‘Neocon- Nationalists’ within the international elite.
Examining the situation of SE Europe, one should remember also that every crisis and/or military conflict between Greece and Turkey during the last century has been designed outside the region, but executed by Greek and Turkish “players”. For example, behind both Greek and Turkish nationalists in Cyprus was the notorious Gladio NATO network and, in last analysis, Americans, British and Israelis who wanted to fuel the Greek – Turkish confrontation in Cyprus, in order to deny Cypriots the right to exercise their sovereignty over an island considered of enormous strategic importance for US, for Britain and for Israel.
To play the eternal game of divide et impera, outside to the region forces have always used false signals in order to create fake perceptions to the local players. Americans let the Greek dictator Ioannidis believe that by staging the coup against Makarios in 1974 he would obtain the union of Cyprus with Greece. Instead, he obtained Turkish invasion in Cyprus. We cannot also be sure what was Ankara believing when they downed a Russian fighter in 2015.
Did anybody created to Mr. Erdogan the conviction that he may proceed with some kind of neo-ottoman project in Eastern Mediterrean? If that really happened – we have no idea – then it was most probable a great provocation.
In any case, what we are witnessing in the Eastern Mediterranean is the gradual accumulation of factors which can lead to a very serious military conflict.
Devils in details: Could Turkey grab a Greek island? *
By Professor William Mallinson
19 December 2019
Universitá Guglielmo Marconi
What could the current threat of war between two NATO members, Greece and Turkey, have to do with two beautiful little Greek islands? Read on, if you wish to think beyond the boring digitalised world of appinions.
Given the current worldwide disorder in relations between states, many IR theoreticians and alleged experts seem to have forgotten the necessity of hard research to try to understand the importance of detail. After all, who had heard of the Greek islands of Gavdos and Gavdopoula before the Imia crisis that nearly brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of war in 1996/7, a war which would have seriously embarrassed NATO (Greece and Turkey are both members), and helpedMoscow to – quite understandably – snigger at NATO’s rigor mortis? (Even French president Macron recently called NATO ‘brain dead’). For the uninitiated among the pundits and alleged specialists on the Eastern Mediterranean, and even world, events, Gavdos and Gavdopoula are Greek islands lying off the coast of Crete (which also houses a huge American naval base, whence Washington can try to control the Eastern Mediterranean, and even the whole Mediterranean, given the Kissinger-promoted Anglo-American special relationship’s control of Gibraltar and the British bases on Cyprus. But the US also uses a Turkish airbase, Inçirlik, hence NATO’s need for Turkey. And so now to the Greek, and even non-Greek, mainstream press.
This mainstream and compliant press seems happy to reflect the Greek government’s euphoria at apparent European support for Greece and Cyprus vis-à-vis neo-Ottoman threats, as witnessed by the European Council’srecent condemnation of the Libya-Turkey deal on maritime boundaries. Foreign Minister Dendias even said that Greece is ‘extremely satisfied’.
But how satisfied should Greece really be, given that the real and pre-existing problem, namely the Greek-Turkish air and sea borders in the Aegean, has not been solved ever since Turkey began to make its illegal claims in the Aegean following the 1955 British-planned failure of the 1955 tri-partite conference that led to the anti-Greek rioting in Turkey? What about Turkey’s almost daily illegal overflights of Greek islands?
Let us look at the backstage reality to see whether Greece could expect military support from its EU homologues in the case of Turkish suddenly seizing a small Greek island. I quote from an article that I wrote some years ago, because it is unlikely that anything has since altered in essence, despite the EU condemnation of the recent deal. My research reveals a lack of precision in the diplomacy surrounding the Aegean question, and a concomitant drop in standards of diplomacy itself, partly caused, I suspect, by the increasing use of social media by diplomats and politicians, in particular Twitter.
During the Imia affair in 1996, Turkey openly laid claim to a large number of Greek islands, including Gavdos, off the southern coast of Crete. I decided to try and ascertain on what specific grounds Turkey claimed Gavdos, and to ask a selection of governments through their Athens embassies, what their position on Gavdos was.
I began with the Turkish Embassy. On 15 June 2006, I sent the following question to IhanSaygili (who had been good enough to attend the launch of my book on Cyprus): ‘Does the government of the Republic of Turkey consider the isle of Gavdos (south of Crete) to be part of Greek territory?If not, why not?’
Obtaining an answer proved to be like squeezing blood form a stone. Months passed, withSaygiliapparently awaiting a response from Ankara. Then he was posted on, and a very friendly diplomat, ErginSoner, put me in touch with one BarisKalkavan, who asked me to send him a summary of my forthcoming book, since he did not see what it had to do with Gavdos! He also commented, inaccurately, that my published book was too pro-Greek (although I outlined the Turkish positions at length, having received answers from the Ambassador and the deputy lead of the Motherland Party). I waited until January 2007, and then telephoned Kalkavan. First he claimed that my question did not fit in with my book outline. When I contested this, he implied that this was not the real reason, but that the answer was too sensitive to be put on paper. I asked what this answer was, but he could not say. So much for Turkey’s ability to back up their ridiculous claims.
The British Embassy, usually coy and careful, was in this instancemore forthcoming and prompt, but nevertheless not overly precise. Tracy Gallagher replied:
‘HMG, like the rest of the international community [does this include Greece and Cyprus?] has not taken a formal position on any of the Aegean disputes (…). I understand that the UK issued a statement on Greek sovereignty over Gavdos in June 1996, which was reported by the BBC Greek Service at the time, but I have not seen the text. I have asked our research analysts to get hold of a copy.’
I followed this up, but the Embassy was unable to locate the statement, adding however that on 12 June 1996, a senior Greek MFA official had thanked the Ambassador for a helpful statement on Greek sovereignty over Gavdos that the official said the BBC Greek Service had carried. Mrs Gallagher then suggested that I consult the BBC Greek Service archives, a copy of which had been handed to the Greek Parliament.
At this point, I contacted the relevant officials in the Greek Foreign Ministry, to try and track down a statement that the British could not find, even though one of their officials had made it. They told me that the Greek Parliament could not locate it. However, they helpfully found an American Hellenic Institute statement, quoting the BBC report, which read as follows:
‘Britain does not have any doubts over the status of Gavdos Island, since Turkey does not provide any explanation regarding the relevant issue it brought forth at NATO and, as such, it proved that it was mistaken when it questioned the island’s sovereignty. Therefore, and according to common sense, the British government consider Gavdos to be a Greek island.’
However, on the question of Greece’s Eastern Aegean maritime borders, Britain has taken French leave: in 1975, a British Embassy official in Ankara had written the following about the continental shelf dispute: ‘I was left with the impression that reference to the International Court [of Justice] was still something rather irrelevant and that the Turks hankered firmly, however unrealistically, for a bilateral solution. This is perhaps not surprising as they can presumably not have very much confidence in winning its case at the Court on its merits alone.’ When I asked the British Embassy in Athens whether they still held this view, Mrs Gallagher’s reply was: ‘HMG has not taken a position.’She was presumably unaware that in 1977, ‘the British Government’s view of the Continental Shelf issues [was] much closer to the Greek than the Turkish view (in particular Britain supports the entitlement of islands to have a Continental Shelf).’ This view is certainly the same today.
As for the US government, its answer to my question on Gavdos was: ‘These are bilateral issues between Greece and Turkey. Our desire is for both sides to resolve this dispute bilaterally and peacefully.’ This deviates somewhat from what the State Department wrote to me in 2003: ‘We recognize Greece’s border with Turkey, but not all the territorial waters implications which Greece asserts. We have not taken a position on sovereignty over Imia/Kardak, in part because of the lack of an agreed maritime boundary.’ Also, when I asked about Greece’s twelve mile nautical and ten mile airspace limits, the reply was: ‘We recognize the six [!]-mile territorial sea claim and a claim to the superjacent air space. We do not recognize Greece’s claim to territorial air space seaward of the outer limit of its territorial sea.
The Israeli response on Gavdos was embarrassing. William Anagnostaras tried to be as helpful as he could, but, after various telephone conversations (during which he told me that his new Ambassador was an Israeli Arab), his government was unable to state its view. This contrasts with the response that I had receivedsome years earlier, when the Israeli Embassy had written to me:‘Israel recognises Greece and Turkey in full terms and the existing borders of each country.’ However, their ambassador at the time refused to answer a question about Greece’s maritime and air space limits. Clearly, Israel’s then increasingly close formal co-operation with Turkey (training flights, manufacturing and intelligence co-operation) explained the reason for the lack of a satisfactory response.
The French reply was courteous and rather similar to the British one: ‘The French Republic has not taken a formal position on the concurrent claims of Greece and Turkey relative to these two [Gavdos and Imia] islands.’ Unlike the British and Americans, however, the French Embassy stated that both parties should agree to resolve territorial differences at the International Court of Justice [rather than bilaterally].
The German reply was mildly farcical. Herr Féaux de la Croix obliquely wrote: ‘Replying to your query dated 15 June I would refer you to freely accessible information.’ When I asked him to explain what he meant, and to be more specific, he agreed that his reply really meant that his government declined to comment.
And so to the Russians. They were at one and the same time the friendliest and the most unyielding. Despite several telephone conversations with their press officer, and intimations that an answer would come, it never arrived. Perhaps the Russians do not wish to irritate Greece or Turkey, while the US does not mind needling Greece at various times.
The Italian response, from a Martin Brook, was only oral: ‘Italy adheres to international treaties.’ Could they say otherwise? This is really slightly worrying for Greece, since back in 1996, the Italian Foreign Ministry put out a statement confirming that Italian rights in the area [Imia/Kardak] had been transferred to Greece in 1947. The fact that the Italian government did not even state this to me, let alone anything about Gavdos, should be disquieting for Greek diplomats.
The Irish government, like the Russian and Israeli ones, has still proven unable to give any response about Gavdos, or even about the islet of Rockall, claimed by both Ireland and Britain. The British were, however, very clear that this islet is British.
The Iranians, after a little bit of chasing, finally told me on the telephone that ‘their government had no position’.
The saddest response of all was from the Palestinians. Their diplomat told me that they could not get a response, because relations with their Foreign Ministry in Palestine were somewhat problematic.
Most embarrassing of all, it appears that all the above diplomatic ‘respondents’were blissfully unaware that in 1999, a European Commission official had written, in answer to a question from a member of the European Parliament, that the islands of Gavdos and Gavdopoula were under Greek sovereignty in accordance with the arrangements of the Treaty of London of 1913.
To begin to conclude this tawdry tale of attempting to obtain clarity and transparency on the real nuts and bolts of the current tension between Greece and Turkey, I think that we need only quote the British Foreign Office in 1975: ‘We must also recognise that in the final analysis Turkey must be regarded as more important to Western strategic interests than Greece and that, if risks must be run, they should be risks of further straining Greek rather than Turkish relations with the West.’ This is still true, whatever the cheap public relations social engineering.
Although the US would lean over backwards to prevent a serious war between Greece and Turkey, this might not be the case were Turkey to merely seize a small Greek island. This is because NATO’s interests, and therefore Turkey’s, with NATO’s second largest army, come before those of Greece, whatever the rhetoric and EU and US criticism of the illegal Turko-Tripolitanian deal.
Turkey knows its strategic value to NATO only too well, and is playing its cards like a clever courtesan. For example, she has just suggested that she might close down the Inçirlik airbase. As long as the outdated Cold War warriors and the shareholders of the military-industrial-congressional complex continue to keep NATO alive, Turkey will benefit more than Greece. A final telling example of why Turkey could possibly seize a small Greek island lies in the fact that the Greek Foreign Minister, Dendias, only approved the expulsion of the Libyan ambassador, not daring to expel even a junior Turkish diplomat, possibly on American instructions (but not yet provable).Thus Dendiashas created for Turkey the impression that Greece is not willing to defend itself, whatever rhetoric about firmness comes from the mouth of Prime Minister Mitsotakis. If even a junior diplomat cannot be expelled, then will Greece dare to shoot down a Turkish jetfighter? In the event that Turkey grabs an island, the US would prefer to keep Inçirlik than threaten Turkey with force. The US also maintains various listening posts on illegally Turkish-occupied 37% of Cyprus, even thoughWashington does not (yet) recognise the illegally occupied part of the island. That’s the nature of the grubby game.
* All documentary evidence for my article can be located in my article in the February 2007(issue 39) of Διπλωματία, entitled ‘Η Γαύδος και ο Διάβολος που Κρύβεται στη Λεπτομέρεια’ and my books Cyprus, A Modern History and Britain and Cyprus, published by I.B. Tauris (now an imprint of Bloomsbury).