Ankara signals that it is ready for any political scenario - whether a war or peace - that may emerge from the political deadlock manifesting itself over the disputed region.

To bolster its fight for gas exploration and other maritime rights in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey has increased its military and political presence in Libya and across the region. 

Ankara’s assertive policy has unnerved not only regional powers like Greece and Egypt, but also countries like France - a Western Mediterranean state - which has deployed its Navy and military aircraft into the region, further escalating tensions with Turkey.

Experts however say that it is unlikely to see Turkey giving in to any foreign pressure, especially when it has strengthened its military capacity under its flagship modernisation projects in the past few decades. 

“It’s difficult to predict what would happen there,” says Ismail Bozkurt, an experienced Turkish Cypriot writer, and a former member of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) presidential advisory council responsible for negotiations with the Greek Cypriot Administration (GCA). 

While Bozkurt does not see much possibility that there will be a hot war in the region, he still thinks that an unexpected spark could possibly provoke a military confrontation between Turkey and its rivals in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

“The tense political atmosphere in the Eastern Mediterranean suggests that a spark could immediately trigger a fire across the region,” Bozkurt told TRT World.

A war here could damage Turkey and its interests, the expert says, but “Greece would be damaged much more than Turkey.” 

He also thinks that while France and some other regional powers like Egypt and Israel rhetorically support Greece, in a hot war situation with Ankara, “Athens would find itself alone”. 

(From L to R) Greek Cypriot administration leader Nicos Anastasiades, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for a photo before signing a deal to build the EastMed subsea pipeline to carry natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe, in Athens, Greece, January 2, 2020.
(From L to R) Greek Cypriot administration leader Nicos Anastasiades, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for a photo before signing a deal to build the EastMed subsea pipeline to carry natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe, in Athens, Greece, January 2, 2020. (Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters Archive)

France has recently deployed its fighter jets and warships into Cyprus in a showdown with Turkey - Ankara condemned the move in strong terms. 

According to Bozkurt, despite its illegal deployment to the island and its aggressive posturing in the region, France would not enter a war on the side of Greece against Turkey. 

“France could arm Greece, giving its warplanes to Athens, but I don’t think it could enter a war alongside Greece against Turkey,” he opines. 

“It is also clear that this kind of conflict would not work for the political and military interests of both NATO and the EU,” he says. 

Turkey is the second biggest military force in NATO, showing its reliability to the world’s most powerful alliance for decades. The country is also an important asset to the EU while Brussels drags Ankara’s membership application for years on implausible grounds. 

In the growing refugee crisis, Turkey, a nation that has played host to a record number of refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, has shown its indispensability for both the continent and the union as agreeing with the EU leadership, particularly Angela Merkel’s Germany, to keep refugees in its borders. 

In a clear difference with Paris, Berlin does not want any more escalation with Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is currently playing the role of mediator between Ankara and Athens. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his German counterpart Heiko Maas attend a press conference in Ankara, Turkey, August 25, 2020.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his German counterpart Heiko Maas attend a press conference in Ankara, Turkey, August 25, 2020. (Credit: Turkish Foreign Ministry / Reuters)

Will Turkey backtrack? 

“They [the opponents of Turkey] could bring more pressure over Turkey. But it appears that Turkey will not backtrack at all,” Bozkurt observes. 

He draws attention to the fact that Turkey has made important steps in terms of developing its own native military technology. “We can see that if we look at what has recently happened in Libya and Syria, where the course of the conflicts has changed with the military intervention of Turkey,” says the Turkish Cypriot political analyst. 

“It’s clear that Turkey has confidence in its own military capabilities,” says Bozkurt, an expert, who has observed many political incidents in the region at close range for decades. 

Beyond developing its indigenous drone technology, which has been the main force to make Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar raise his siege of the capital Tripoli as well as withdraw from much of the country’s western territories, the Turkish Navy has also become a real force in these parts.

According to prominent experts and former admirals, the Turkish Navy is now one of the world’s top ten sea powers, designing and building its own frigates among 20 other powers. 

Despite the confidence in its military, Ankara, and its Turkish Cypriot allies, have continued to reiterate their intention for dialogue in order to address growing differences in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey's Energy Minister Fatih Donmez and Ersin Tatar, Prime Minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, are seen on board the Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus, August 6, 2019.
Turkey's Energy Minister Fatih Donmez and Ersin Tatar, Prime Minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, are seen on board the Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus, August 6, 2019. (Murad Sezer / Reuters Archive)

"The path to a solution in the eastern Mediterranean is via dialogue and negotiation," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan two weeks ago, as tensions continued to escalate.

"If we act with common sense and reason, we can find a win-win solution that meets everyone's interests. We are not chasing any unnecessary adventures or seeking tensions," he added.

But Erdogan and other top Turkish officials have also continuously emphasised that Ankara could not be bullied by continuing threats of regional powers. 

“If this goes on, we will retaliate. We shall not leave either the dead or the living of our kin alone,”  he said, after a recent spat between Greek and Turkish naval forces in the Eastern Mediterranean seas.

In June, a naval accident that occurred between the Turkish and French Navy vessels and warships, also stood to demonstrate that the waters in question are most definitely warming up under the summer sun.

Despite the label of ‘accident’, the incident was remarkable in many aspects, bringing the two powerful Naval forces closer to open confrontation.  

“We understand from [Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut] Cavusoglu’s statement that it was a ‘deliberate’ accident. It was not a coincidence at all,” says Bozkurt. 

Bozkurt refers to Cavusoglu’s recent statement on French actions.

“If you continue to make statements like ‘We will defend our rights or we will do military exercises’ or make wrong steps [in the region], then, we would not have accidents anymore,” the Turkish foreign minister warned Paris, during a meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Tuesday.

“We would do whatever necessary without any wavering,” added Cavusoglu. 

Source: TRT World