At the beginning of October, Greece and France signed a strategic military accord, which states that France will come to Greece's aid militarily (and vice versa) in the event of an attack by a third country -- even if the attacker is part of the NATO alliance. That is naming Turkey without naming it. Pictured: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (L), shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron at the signing ceremony for the military accord, in Paris on September 28, 2021. (Photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images)
The emerging military pact within NATO that brings together the allies Greece, United States and France is bad news for Turkey -- that is, if its President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan intends to fuel tensions in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas as part of his campaign strategy before presidential elections in 2023.
In recent months, Greek diplomacy has made a number of smart moves on the difficult chess board called the Aegean. These moves, coupled with Turkey's increasingly pressing problems at home and on foreign fronts, will restrict Erdoğan's aggression to "aggressive rhetoric" only, and rule out "aggressive action."
At the beginning of October, Greece and France signed a strategic military accord by which Greece will buy from France three state-of-the-art Belharra-class frigates and three Gowind-class corvettes. Delivery of the vessels, more advanced than any other in the Greek Navy, is scheduled to begin in 2024. That is the multi-billion-euro acquisition part. The strategic part of the deal states that France will come to Greece's aid militarily (and vice versa) in the event of an attack by a third country -- even if the attacker is part of the NATO alliance. That is naming Turkey without naming it. The Greek parliament ratified the accord on October 7.
The accord rang alarm bells in Ankara. Turkey condemned the deal, along with "Greece's maximalist claims" and said the accord is a threat to regional peace and stability. Ankara did not say, however, why Turkey is never a threat to regional peace and stability when it buys frigates, submarines and other naval platforms. On the contrary, the official Turkish justification for its acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missiles was that "every sovereign nation should have the liberty to buy every weapon system of its choice."
One should ask the Turks why they are upset about a military deal between two NATO allies. What is the difference between Greece buying frigates from France, and Turkey, for decades, buying frigates and submarines from Germany?
On October 16, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, visiting Washington, signed the renewal of the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) between Greece and the U.S. and met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken for the third round of the U.S.-Greece strategic dialogue. The new accord expands on the one signed in Athens two years ago by then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and will give the U.S. increased access to two bases in central Greece and one at Alexandroupolis near the Greek-Turkish border.
In addition to these, the U.S. also operates a permanent naval base in Souda, on Crete, a key U.S. and NATO force-projection capability in the region. In the next round of MDCA negotiations, Greek officials may convince the so far reluctant U.S. military establishment to set up bases on some of the Greek islands bordering Turkey.
The renewal of the Greek-U.S. MDCA came 17 months after one of the largest exercises by U.S. forces in Europe took place in Thrace, near the border between Turkey and Greece. The new MDCA potentially will elevate U.S.-Greek military cooperation to an unprecedented level.
But did Washington not consider a strong Turkish reaction?
"I will not be drawn into conspiracy theories of the 'the Americans were afraid of Turkey's reaction' kind," said Greece's Foreign Minister Dendias. "If the reaction of Turkey was so important, they would not have chosen Alexandroupolis for a military base, only a few kilometers away from the Evros (Greek-Turkish) border, or have a naval base at Souda in Crete, an island in the very heart of the Eastern Mediterranean."
There is proof to back up Dendias' explanation. U.S. forces are preparing for what is described as the largest-ever military landing exercise in Greece, which is scheduled for November at Alexandroupolis -- the same location that is "a few kilometers away" from the Turkish border. The U.S. military move seems to have two objectives: It builds an anti-Russian presence in the Balkans and also aims to send a message that the U.S. would protect Greece against Turkish aggression.
A large number of helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), tanks and artillery pieces are expected to reach the Greek port in the weeks to come as part of an extensive military shipment that is of unprecedented scale, according to Greek media. The shipment will be part of a NATO solidarity drill that will take place in Romania, Bulgaria, the Balkans and central Europe to increase military leverage in the Balkans.
Moreover, on October 25, Dendias co-signed a bilateral cooperation agreement with his British counterpart, Liz Truss, in London. The agreement covers a wide range of sectors including defense and foreign policy.
The Western defense shield for Greece is emerging at a time when Turkey's domestic and foreign problems are deepening. The Turkish lira, since the end of March, has depreciated by a third against the U.S. dollar. Inflation and interest rates are soaring close to 20%. There are 10 million jobless people in the country. Of those who earn a salary, nearly half are getting the minimum wage of $294 a month.
Militarily speaking, the Turkish Air Force has never been this weak in firepower. Thrown out of the F-35 fighter jet program, Ankara is vacillating between the older-generation F-16s and a Russian fighter jet option. Both are big unknowns.
The military balance in the Aegean is shifting to Greece's favor. Yes, Erdoğan will always "bark" during his election campaign. But with the new balance shaping geo-strategy, he will no longer be able to bite.
Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey's leading journalists, was recently fired from the country's most noted newspaper after 29 years, for writing in Gatestone what is taking place in Turkey. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.