zone that its arch-enemies Egypt and Greece agreed to
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Where did all this come from?
Less than three weeks ago, we saw Turkish diplomacy paralyze European sanctions and the Egyptian invasion of Libya aiming at a new peace process. Greece was thus frustrated in its attempts to mobilize the EU in order to impose disabling sanctions making the costly Turkish military effort in the Mediterranean impossible. Stressing that it was aware of the move, the Turkish government made a threat to send prospecting missions to waters in dispute with Greece, taking the tension from one front to the other. The tactic was not new: pivoting its military efforts from Syria to Libya saved a regime that only a few months ago was on the ropes during the most intense weeks of the Covid pandemic.
But finally, when the expedition was underway, it was cancelled and the Turkish warships returned to their bases. The reason was that the EU had organized behind the scenes exploratory negotiations between Turkey and Greece.
But Greece continued to push the envelope on Turkey's progress. On August 6, 2009, signed a water delimitation agreement with Egypt that divided between both states the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) also claimed by Turkey. The agreement, which involves cessions to Cairo over unexplored gas zones, caused controversy between the Syriza opposition, which was more expansionist than anyone else, and the government, which claimed that the worst was avoided, since delimiting the EEZ directly with Egypt, as had been done before with Italy, was the only available way to curb Turkish expansion.
The agreement apparently took Ankara by surprise and angered the Turkish hawks. Erdogan ordered the negotiators to withdraw immediately. The army announced a firing exercise on Monday and Tuesday in a nearby area southwest of the Turkish coast between Turkey and the Greek island of Rhodes. And a new NAVEX, which took Turkish sovereignty over the EEZ for granted, was issued to warn that the geological exploration ship that had cancelled its work, the Oruç Reis, would resume it.
On the verge of an armed conflict
Yesterday, Monday, the Oruç Reis entered the waters in dispute with Greece escorted by a Turkish navy flotilla. The Turkish Ministry of Defense immediately posted images on a tweet. The Greek navy, sent messages every 15 minutes since it entered the disputed waters instructing the Turkish ships to leave them while the ship laid its cables on the seabed. Uselessly, of course, because the noise of the escorting ships' engines prevents any useful geological listening. It was the least important thing. The aim of his mission was not to obtain data but to establish the determination of the Ankara government. Problem, the determination of the Greek imperialism is not minor. The Greek foreign minister declared this morning that Greece will not accept faits accomplis And the full Greek army entered a state of high alert this morning.
The mood in Greek barracks and sea bases is already warlike. The statements of the Greek military prior to the first and failed mission of the Oruç Reis are not so easily forgotten. At that time, only a few weeks ago, they said that if the ship's cables touch the Greek continental shelf, Turkey will have full and exclusive responsibility for what follows. The head of the Greek army went so far as to promise that whoever steps on Greek soil will first be burned and then be asked for his name.
Mitsotakis will have telephone conversations today with European presidents and the Greek chancellery has already requested an urgent meeting of the council of foreign ministers. And Erdogan, as always, is playing at combining faits accomplis with proposals for a major regional negotiation process to redraw the maritime borders of the entire Mediterranean.
In other words, we are facing an armed negotiation in which the different and contradictory imperialist interests of the coastal countries increase their pressure to the edge of an armed conflict. Of course, none of them has any intention of openly initiating it. All would prefer to see their interests flourish with no other violence than that of threat and imposition by the facts. But they are not playing alone. And if tension escalates, the turnaround will be little less than impossible.