Turkey ‘s militaristic policies intensify risks of wider conflict

The Achilles heel of Ankara’s strategy might be its tendency to underestimate the hostile reactions that its militaristic approach is provoking among many Arab and European nations.
Wednesday 15/07/2020
French Rafale fighter jet is catapulted from the French aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, off the eastern coast of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea.  (AFP)
French Rafale fighter jet is catapulted from the French aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, off the eastern coast of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea. (AFP)

Paris – While it beats the drums of war, Turkey is playing a game of militaristic brinkmanship on more than one front.

It has boots on the ground in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Its navy is flexing its muscles in the Mediterranean.

The next flashpoint could be not far from Turkey’s borders as Ankara is embroiled in a dangerous faceoff with Greece and where the drums of war are beating more and more loudly.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Tuesday that if Greece comes under armed attack from its Turkish neighbour, it will invoke a section of the 2009 Treaty on European Union that obliges member states to provide aid and assistance to another EU country facing armed aggression.

Greece and Turkey have come to the brink of war three times since 1974.

Turkey has already dispatched warship-escorted vessels to drill for gas in an area where EU member Cyprus insists it has exclusive rights. Its is doing that again soon. The Turkish government has claimed it is acting to protect its “interests in the area’s natural resources” and those of Turkish Cypriots.

For now, Greece wants its European Union partners to prepare “crippling” economic sanctions for use against neighbouring Turkey if it goes ahead with planned offshore gas and oil exploration off Greek islands.

“The European Union is Turkey’s biggest trading partner,” Dendias told private Star TV. ”If it wants, it can create a huge problem for the Turkish economy. That’s not my wish … but we must be clear.”

Greece says it has exclusive rights in the areas targeted by Turkey, which in the case of Crete lie far off the Turkish coast.

Ankara bases much of its claims on a maritime border deal it signed last November with the Islamist-dominated Government of National accord (GNA) of Libyan Prime Minster Fayez Sarraj.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in recent days Turkey would start seismic research and drilling operations for natural resources in the part of the Eastern Mediterranean covered by the November agreement with the GNA. He added that Turkey was open to sharing with companies from third countries such Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia

The border demarcation agreement signed with the GNA gives Ankara broad access to oil and gas resources in the Mediterranean.  Turkey eyes other potential spoils in Libya, including huge contracts for Turkish contractors and repayments of billions of dollars in debt, as it commits troops and military equipment and dispatches thousands of mercenaries  to help the GNA in its war against the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

Turkey’s approach to the use of force is not mitigated by any serious consideration for peaceful compromises or  for accommodating the demands of neighbours in the Mediterranean or the Arab world. This is lending increasingly to experts to accusations of imperial hubris.

Experts point to statements made last Monday by Mevlut Cavusoglu, who dismissed any possible benefits for Libya’s GNA from a ceasefire.

In an interview with state broadcaster TRT Haber, Cavusoglu said that the coastal city of Sirte and Jufra air base need to be turned over to the GNA before it agrees to a ceasefire.

The GNA is acting in a similarly bellicose manner. Its spokesman Mohamad Gnounou pledged Tuesday that its forces would advance toward the “cities taken hostage” and “eradicate all outlaw groups,’ an allusion to the pro-Haftar forces. Sirte might be the next flash-point and probably more imminently than many expect.

In the pursuit of his war plans, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is playing a game of mirrors projecting US and NATO support  for Turkey as a bulwark against Russian presence on the southern shore of the Mediterranean. Ankara even announced Tuesday that US President Donald Trump and the Turkish leader had agreed to work “more closely” on a solution to the Libya conflict. Erdogan and the US president “agreed to cooperate more closely, as allies, … to promote lasting stability in Libya,” said a Turkish statement.

But the Achilles heel of Ankara’s strategy might be its tendency to underestimate the hostile reactions that its militaristic approach is provoking among many Arab and European nations. France and Egypt, for example, are willing to stand up to Turkey, even if it means with the use of force. In a growing number of Arab nations, resentment of Turkey’s neo-Ottoman ambitions is growing.

France is still not letting go of its challenge to Ankara’s “aggressive behaviour ” after the June 10 incident where the Turkish Navy acted in a hostile manner against French warship Le Courbet. The French warship was trying to inspect a third-nation flagged vessel suspected of transporting an illegal Turkish shipload of weapons.

Egypt has already drawn “red-lines” for Turkey in Libya. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi hinted at a possible intervention of his country’s army in Libya if Turkish-backed forces tried to take over Sirte. An Egyptian military campaign in Libya remains hypothetical but has been made plausible by impressive exercises held by Cairo and the recent decision by the internationally-recognised Libyan parliament to green-light a possible Egyptian military reaction. The Tobruk-based legislative body gave in-principle support for an Egyptian intervention “to protect the national security of Libya and Egypt if they see an imminent danger to both our countries.”

The parliament denounced what its described as a “Turkish occupation,” in a sharp rejection of Ankara’s military campaigns in the region and its ambitions of neo-Ottoman conquest.