An obscure Mediterranean flash point may soon enter into crisis; it would be the tiny and remote Greek island of Kastelorizo (or Megisti; Meis in Turkish). Like many other Greek islands, it is much closer to Turkey than to the Greek mainland (1 mile vs. 357 miles). Unlike other small Greek islands, its location between Rhodes and Cyprus gives it inordinate military and economic importance.
If Kastelorizo, with a population of less than 500, enjoyed all the rights conferred on it by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Greece can claim an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 miles sailors who leave Turkey with an EEZ along its shores; take away Kastelorizo and the Turkish EEZ more than double in size. The discovery of large deposits of gas and oil in the Mediterranean Sea makes this site of particularly great potential importance.
The Republic of Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan categorically rejects Kastelorizo enjoying such privileges. He recently condemned the plans of those who attempt to confine a 780,000 square kilometer country to its shores using a 10 square kilometer island. He went on to refer to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and other agreements that demarcated Turkey’s borders: Turkey has the political, economic and military power to tear up immoral maps and self-imposed documents. . Then, alluding to long-standing military victories against the Greeks, he added: A century ago we buried them in the ground or threw them into the sea. I hope they don’t pay the price. same price now.
In response, the Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou visited Kastelorizo on Sunday, where she responded with such puzzling and sweet remarks that they might in fact invite aggression: We are going through a difficult and dangerous time. Turkish leaders are stepping up the pressure on our country, leading to aggressive statements that undermine good neighborly relations and peaceful coexistence that have been built for so many decades by Greeks and Turks, who regard the sea that separates them not as an impenetrable border, but as a channel of communication. The day before, the Turkish defense minister had just visited the nearest Turkish town of Kastelorizo sent a disturbing message.
The past few months have seen Erdoan at his most aggressive in the Mediterranean: sending exploration vessels into Greek and Cypriot waters, with a substantial naval escort, in search of hydrocarbons and signing a deal with a Libyan faction including the two countries share a maritime border (Greece and Egypt then responded in the same way).
A crisis could be imminent. Like the Turkish economy, led by a weak currencyheading south, a confrontation over Kastelorizo would ideally serve to arouse nationalist emotions in view of the presidential elections of 2023. The analyst Jack Dulgarianoffered a plausible scenario: Turkish troops invade or take Kastelorizo hostage and (in a Cyprus repeat in 1974) challenge the world to do something about it.
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The Hellenic armed forces alone cannot retake the island. Neither Israel nor Egypt will fight Turkey for Kastelorizo. NATO’s Article 5, the one that promises protection against aggression, will surely prove ineffective when both fighters are members of this organization. Led by Germany, most of Europe (with Emmanuel Macron the honorable exception) shudders at the prospect of Turkey releasing its weapon of illegal migrants and preferring to appease Ankara. The Russians Vladimir Putin is courting Erdoan from NATO and will not upset him. China Xi Jinping hails Turkey’s economic weakness as a way to overthrow it like Iran in an economic colony.
If Kastelorizo (like a third of Cyprus) comes under Turkish control at minimal cost to Ankara, the consequences will be dire. Taking advantage of the adulation in Turkey, Erdoan is likely to step up aggressive oil and gas exploration and he could look to the Aegean islands belonging to Greece as his next target. Plus: Islamist and jihadist that he is, Erdoan could in theory try to conquer all of Cyprus and even all of Greece. It has already invaded Iraq, Syria and Libya; Kastelorizo would be the next step towards a rampage that could spread to all parts of the Ottoman Empire at its height five centuries ago.
Who is going to stop him? All major leaders in the United States, Germany, Russia and China are smiling at Erdoan, making it difficult to see how this long underestimated and very determined enemy will be deterred.
Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.
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