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Pax Mediterranea or a Spark of Hell?
Frigates; east Mediterranean Conflict
Despite diplomatic pressures by the European Union and calls for dialogue by NATO, the conflict in eastern Mediterranean does not seem to settle down, in the foreseeable future. The infuriation ignited by Turkey’s President Erdogan in the quiet basin is now attracting military intervention by heavy-weighted players in the international community. In less than seven days, France, the United States, Russia, and China jumped into the east Mediterranean battlefield through the faux window of forcing peace or “Pax Mediterranea” as the French President Macron labeled it. Slowly but surely, the conflict in eastern Mediterranean is growing bigger than Greece and Turkey; turning the region into a scene similar to the open-end proxy wars of the Middle East.
First, France deployed its flagship, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier “Charles de Gaulle” to eastern Mediterranean, under the claim that Erdogan did not commit to the “red lines” imposed by Macron. It is unclear when and how Macron got the right or the capacity to impose “red lines” on any of the conflicting parties in the Mediterranean. Turkish Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar, after he completed a flight on an F-16 fighter jet over northern Aegean, on September 3rd, said: “those who came from thousands of kilometers to act as guardian angels are not accepted. They should leave as they came. France is not a guarantor country, it holds no agreement, it is not the representative of the European Union. What brought [France] here?" Meanwhile, the Greeks are applauding France for intervening!
Two days after France’s “redline” military intervention, the United States decided to partially lift the arms embargo imposed on Cyprus since 1987, and US Secretary of State vowed to deepen security cooperation with Nicosia to counter the Turkish threat. One week before that, the United States Navy joined Turkey and Greece on two separate naval exercises in eastern Mediterranean.
The next day, Turkey issued two navigational telex alerts (Navtex) in eastern Mediterranean for Russian navy to conduct live-fire exercises on the second and third weeks of September. The eastern Mediterranean basin is already packed with Turkish research and navy ships, as well as Hellenic Navy frigates and fighter jets and frigates of Greece allies, such as Emirates, France, and Italy. If the Russian Navtex is applied, a clash or an accident is inevitable and it could be the spark that kindles hell.
One day after this, On September 4th, the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, finally, decided to intervene. In a press briefing, he mentioned that “following discussions with Greek and Turkish leaders, the two [NATO] allies have agreed to enter into technical talks at NATO to establish mechanisms for military de-confliction to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents in the Eastern Mediterranean.” The reaction of Greece and Turkey to Stoltenberg’s statement was surprising and counter-intuitive.
Immediately, the Greeks declined Stoltenberg statement and refused to be part of any talks until all Turkish ships are removed. There is a strong resentment and mistrust among the Greeks towards the NATO, as many Greeks believe that NATO favors Turkey to Greece. In 2019, France’s Macron called NATO “brain dead.” On the other hand, the Turks confirmed, more than once, their willingness to use the NATO initiative for dialogue and ending the conflict. On September 7th, Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar met, in Ankara, with his British old friend Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, who acts as the Chairman of NATO's Military Committee. In the meeting Akar re-asserted Turkey’s willingness for dialogue with the Greeks, and mentioned that technical talks between soldiers of both sides should be held.
Meanwhile, the unthinkable, or perhaps the most expected thing, has happened. China came all the way to the hot region, trying to find a space for itself in the east Mediterranean conflict, through re-activating talks with Greece’s President and Prime Minister on the Belt and Road initiative.
Military mobilization in eastern Mediterranean, especially by unrelated players in the international community is extremely dangerous and should not be tolerated or encouraged by any of the concerned parties; i.e. Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, and all eastern Mediterranean countries. There is not a single instance, at least in recent history, that makes us optimistic about the intense involvement of international community in regional or local conflicts. The “red lines” of France were the label under which Syria fell into the hell of a decade-long of proxy wars on its soil. France, US, Russia, and China interference will not deter Turkey or end the historical conflict on exclusive economic zones in the Mediterranean. Only wise diplomacy, dialogue, and face-to-face negotiations between Greece and Turkey, alone, can achieve peace.