EuropeForeign PolicyGreecePolitics

Greece’s New Diplomatic Allies

New alliances form as tensions rise in the eastern Mediterranean, with Greece finding new friends in Israel and Egypt as Turkey aligns with Russia and Libya

As European relations with Turkey continue to deteriorate, Greece has responded by coordinating a plan to purchase three unmanned aerial vehicles, known as UAVs, from the United States. According to Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopolous, these vehicles will allow greater surveillance capabilities extending from the Black Sea to Libya, and are only one part of Greece’s planned military upgrades.

Panagiotopolous believes that an increase in defence is necessary, and told lawmakers so during a debate on a draft bill for the upgrade of Greece’s F-16 and Mirage fighter jet fleet, saying “And don’t tell me that we should not inspect the region as far as Libya and that we should only go from Evros to Crete, considering the latest developments”. The statement was made as a veiled reference to the recent Libya-Turkey maritime borders deal, which has been decried by both Greece and the EU as invalid and illegal.

In addition to the UAVs, Greece’s Council for Foreign Affairs and Defence, known as KYSEA, has also tentatively approved the acquisition of two more drones from Israel. Meanwhile, plans have been made to manufacture more drones within the country through Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University, and prototypes have already been released. “Taking advantage of the talent and ingenuity of the AUT research team, European funding opportunities, our defence industry and a specific timetable, we will soon have a Greek UAV”, said Panagiotopolous.

A New Mediterranean Political Reality

Greece’s recent defence developments, coupled with Turkey’s counters against fellow NATO nations and re-alignment with Russia, indicate that a new series of political alliances may soon re-shape the Mediterranean.

States such as Israel, while not a member of NATO, have grown increasingly close to Greece. Earlier in November, both countries ran joint drills, called “Blue Flag”, along with soldiers from the USA, Germany, and Italy. The drill is held biannually to help improve cooperation and coordination between the allied states’ air forces.

Recently, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz visited Athens to meet with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, as well as President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in a bid to strengthen bilateral ties and discuss the threats posed to both nations.

Egypt has also drawn nearer to Greece and Cyprus. Like the EU, Egypt has condemned Turkey’s maritime deal with Libya, as well as the UN-recognised Libyan administration for being “held captive by armed militias”.

Earlier this month, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry met with Dendias, where both countries heavily criticised Turkey’s agreement with Libya. Then on December 19th a tripartite conference between the three states led to representatives signing a Memorandum of Cooperation in an aim to promote stability in the region.

“Our national security is directly impacted by the situation in Libya”, said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in reference to Libya’s ongoing internal conflict. “We would be forgiven for directly intervening in Libya, and we do have the capability to do so. But we did not do it because we considered Libya’s circumstances and we wanted to maintain our relations and brotherhood with the Libyan people.” Egypt has also urged nations to engage in collective actions against “countries supporting terrorism”— a statement directed towards Turkey and Qatar, both of which support an outlawed group in Egypt known as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ties among Israel, Greece, and Egypt have proven crucial as Turkey deployed drones over Northern Cyprus earlier this month, in a move made directly after the signing of its maritime deal with Libya.

Following increased tensions in the Mediterranean, Greece has made plans to add their defense, beginning with the planned purchase of three UAVs. A partnership has also been made to manufacture more drones within Greece through Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University. Copyright: PixOne /

Turkey, Libya and Russia

Beyond angering the EU over illegal drilling in Cypriot waters, Turkey’s new memorandum of understanding with Libya, which carves up the eastern Mediterranean, has been roundly rejected by the EU and Egypt. In a draft joint statement set to be signed by EU leaders, Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus have said that the Turkey-Libya agreement “infringes upon the sovereign rights of third states, does not comply with the Law of the Sea and cannot produce any legal consequences for third states”. The document continues by stating that the EU “unequivocally reaffirms its solidarity with Greece and Cyprus regarding these actions by Turkey”.

German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Adebahr has expressed support for Greece, calling on Turkey and Libya to “respect the sovereignty and the sovereign rights of all EU member-states and to follow the delineation of sea regions in accordance with existing international law”.

“Our position is clear: the delineations of sea regions must be carried out – and this, of course, applies to the Mediterranean as well – on the basis of the existing international law of the sea and particularly with the participation of all the sides involved, more accurately the coastal states”, Adebahr added.

In response, Greece has chosen to expel the Libyan ambassador, though stopping just short of breaking off diplomatic relations entirely. Turkey, however, risks uniting a new anti-Turkish faction consisting of Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Italy, who have already worked together under the auspices of the eastern Mediterranean gas forum. This organisation is as much about military cooperation as it is about energy, and freezing Turkey out has major implications for the region.

In addition to the new maritime border understanding, Turkey has also renewed its pledge of military assistance to Libya’s embattled government. As tensions rise between the EU, USA, and Turkey, the threat of military confrontation looms heavy. The ongoing civil war is deeply complex, with allied nations sometimes taking opposing sides. Should conflict break out, the UAE and Egypt may be forced to become involved due to their alliance with General Khalifa Haftar, a Libyan warlord thought to be planning an assault on the government in Tripoli, known as GNA. Haftar is backed by the UAE, Egypt, France, and Russia – who recently sent 200 Russian mercenaries to Libya to aid the general’s forces – while the Tripoli-based government is backed by Turkey, Qatar, and Italy.

In the meantime, the GNA continues to request troops sent in from Turkey, whereas previous support was limited to drones and armaments shipments. Moving troops on the ground is considered a major escalation amidst an already tense environment – an atmosphere made worse by the carving out of drilling rights over a large swathe of the eastern Mediterranean that infringes on Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.

Turkey has also chosen to alienate fellow NATO member, the United States, by refusing to rescind its deal with Russia over the S-400 missile defence system. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said “it is a done deal. We cannot cancel this. This is for sure, whatever the consequences, this is the situation”. The US Congress, after warning that this deal is incompatible with NATO membership and expressing anger over Turkish actions in Syria, has called for sanctions.

Though these sanctions have not yet been levelled, Congress has lifted the arms embargo on Cyprus and restricted the sale of F-45 fighter jets to Turkey, fearing the technology could be compromised by the proximity of Russian technicians servicing the S-400. Congress has also passed a resolution condemning the Armenian genocide, with Greek support, which is a move that Turkey considers to be a diplomatic insult.

Speaking at the International Conference on the Crime of Genocide, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis stated the “Ottoman Empire carried out the genocide of Pontian [Greeks]” and “how we shall learn from it, how we shall prevent the reliving of similar tragedies in our own lives, anywhere in the world”. Mitsotakis then went on to criticise Turkey’s current foreign policy. “Turkey has engaged in aggressiveness” and is “creating new maps that make the Islands of Greece disappear”, he said.

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B. Lana Guggenheim

Lana is a freelance journalist based in New York City. She has a M.Sc. in International Conflict from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She has worked as an analyst, reporter, and editor, covering extremism, culture, economics, and democracy.

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