By Jason Blazakis
Last month, Greece’s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, met with Turkish President Erdogan in Athens. The result of the meeting was an agreement to build confidence between the two long-time rivals on several issues. The Türkiye-Greece relationship has had enormous ups-and-downs over an extended period of time and the December confidence building measures gloss over key areas of disagreement. As such, I have a low-level of confidence in an enduring rapprochement, especially when you consider Erdogan’s embrace of Vladimir Putin and the terrorist group Hamas.
First, Erdogan’s assertion equating Russia with that of the West cultivates a key geopolitical inflection point. As a key U.S. NATO partner amid contentious geographical dynamics, Erdogan’s ideological conservatism and closeness to Putin threatens to unravel an already tenuous atmosphere in Eurasia.
These dynamics establish a concerning environment for countries like Greece – ongoing, historical conflict between Türkiye and Greece promises to cultivate a dangerous situation for the Aegean nation. Despite Türkiye and Greece’s efforts to “turn over a new leaf” in relations, Erdogan’s alignment with Putin cannot be overstated – a new alliance between the two leaves our NATO nations, like Greece, at risk of political interference. Even worse, it impedes the United States ability to respond adequately to security threats.
Second, Erdogan’s support of Hamas is deeply unsettling. He refuses to acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist group. As a longtime national security official who personally led efforts to sanction high-level members of Hamas, among them Ismail Haniyeh and Yaya Sinwar, Erdogan’s unwillingness to condemn the brutal murder of 1,200 people in Israel on October 7, the vast majority of whom were civilians, is extremely problematic. I saw Türkiye’s reticence in dealing with terrorism challenges first-hand when I worked the counterterrorism financing account. For example, in 2015, FATF’s report on ISIS financing was watered down by the Government of Türkiye – in part because it wanted to obfuscate its significant deficiencies in stopping the flood of foreign fighters into Syria.
Moreover, Erdogan’s Türkiye has become a safehaven from which Hamas can raise finance for its deadly activities. Moreover, Erdogan must immediately stop Hamas’s money and reputational laundering from Türkiye-proper and its illegally occupied territory in Northern Cyprus. Indeed, on October 27 2023, the United States Government sanctioned three shareholders, including its chairman, of the Turkish Real Estate investment fund Trend GYO because of its funding for Hamas. Regarding Türkiye’s illegal control of Northern Cyprus, the U.S. Department of State explained that it, “lacked an adequate anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing institutional framework.” In simple terms, money launderers and terrorist financiers have free rein in Turkish-controlled Cyprus.
As the United States consider its bilateral relationship with Türkiye and how the U.S. assesses Greece- Türkiye security-related dynamics, it is incumbent that the foreign policy establishment heavily weigh Erdogan’s cozying up to Putin and Hamas. It is against the global backdrop that the United States must consider responding to Türkiye. Simply put, Erdogan cannot be trusted. And that’s why Greek-Americans and Greeks more generally do not trust Erdogan.
For years, Türkiye has been on the cusp of acquiring F-16’s from the United States as part of an effort to modernize Türkiye’s Air Force. The deal has been seemingly tied to Sweden’s accession to NATO. Even while Türkiye eventually lifted its objections on Sweden entering NATO, the United States must not allow for the sale of F-16s to move forward. Doing so not only rewards Erdogan for his support of Putin and Hamas. At the same time, the sale of F-16s to Türkiye also threatens Greece’s national security. Greece’s fears are well justified, especially when considering the historical context associated with Türkiye’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Türkiye used U.S.-supplied aircraft and weapons when it invaded Cyprus. The result? More than 1,000 Greek Cypriots captured, many of whom were executed and buried in mass graves. No doubt these historical concerns become magnified when Erdogan expresses support for Putin and Hamas – deadly killers.
These fears are exacerbated because of Greece and Türkiye’s longstanding territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea. A year ago, the Turkish Foreign Minister said Greece’s efforts to extend its territorial waters in the Aegean to 12 miles would be met with force, saying it would be casus belli and justify military action. Türkiye’s threat of war is deeply disconcerting given that international maritime law allows Greece to extend its territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles. This dispute remains unresolved and selling Türkiye F-16s, which can be deployed to the Aegean against Greece, will only exacerbate tensions.
There are many other pressing issues that also must be addressed if Greece-Türkiye rapprochement is possible. This includes, but is not limited to, religious freedom and the worship of Greek Orthodox Christians in Türkiye. The State Department’s religious freedom report explained that the Turkish Government, “…continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim religious minorities…to include Greek Orthodox Christians.” Further, Türkiye’s destruction of the cultural heritage of Cyprus remains a source of great consternation. The EU’s condemnation of Türkiye more than fifteen years ago remains relevant today as it did then. The EU parliament declared, “Turkey has, regrettably, destroyed cultural treasures, religious sites, ancient and contemporary symbols and anything that might remind the local population of the Greek-Cypriot presence in the Turkish occupied part of Cyprus.”
Türkiye, and specifically Erdogan, must address Greece’s legitimate national security concerns, but that’s unlikely to happen unless the Biden Administration and U.S. lawmakers press Erdogan to adopt new and constructive policies that acknowledge Greece’s legitimate fears. While the Mitsotakis-Erdogan meeting in December was a semi-positive step, history is not on their side. Moreover, Erdogan’s favorite playmates, Putin and Hamas, point to Türkiye playing an unhelpful role in achieving international peace and stability. And for that reason alone, Türkiye should not be rewarded with F-16s.
About the Author: Jason M. Blazakis is a Greek-American Democrat running for Congress in NJ-07. He has more than two decades of national security experience, much of that time spent at the U.S. Department of State where he was the Director of the Office of Counterterrorism Finance and Designations.