Greece leans towards air superiority over Turkey
The question of who has air superiority in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean dates back to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, according to Vassilis Nedos in Monday’s newspaper Kathimerini, where he writes: “Greece is gradually gaining the upper hand in the air”. Turkey had until more recently more capability (if not complete strategic superiority), but the scales tipped in Greece’s favor.
“Even if Turkey were to extract its aircraft modernization program from Washington, it would take many years for its air force to catch up with the backlog that has built up since it withdrew from the F- 35.”
There are new tensions within the US political system over whether to approve the sale of 40 new F-16s and the modernization of 80 of the Turkish Air Force’s existing fighters.
The United States is less inclined to support Turkey as it has done in the past. Both Turkey and Greece are members of NATO – Turkey was a bulwark against Communism during the Cold War. Recently, however, Turkey has become an annoyance for Washington due to populist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s anti-Western and anti-Israel posturing. Relations between the United States and Turkey are thorny.
Greek-American lobbyists also appear to be more successful in building pro-Greek sentiment in Washington, among Democrats and Republicans, in part due to Greece’s move away from the populist anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric of the years 70 and 80.
The former socialist government of Syriza and the conservative government of New Democracy have come together to build a more pragmatic architecture of foreign policy, with particular emphasis on the Southeast Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Middle East and the Middle East. ‘Asia.
While Europe is essential for Greece and there is no doubt that Greece benefits from its membership of the EU, Greece’s gaze is no longer just a Western gaze. Greece, it seems, has accepted and developed its role as conduit between East and West.
The aggressive (often racist) role played by Germany in pressuring Greece during the catastrophic economic crisis of 2011-2015 and the acquiescence of Catholic Europe has not been forgotten by Greeks. The United States under President Obama, boosted by Greek-American lobbyists, and the work of the Greek-Australian and Greek-Canadian diaspora pressuring their own Anglo-Saxon nations to support Greece have shaken the posture of the Germany. Add to this Chinese investment in Greece, and new cooperation with India recently, has seen Greece play a historic, pre-modern, balancing role between East and West.
The New Democracy government’s opposition to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine stands in stark contrast to the not-so-subtle support Greece provided former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević in his war of aggression against the states of the former Yugoslavia which were seeking independence. Milošević launched the brutal Balkan Wars of the 1990s and Greece distanced itself from EU and US positions. The traditional tendency to support the Orthodox Christian brotherhood has not resurfaced, except in the hard right and the old communist parties.
The 2018 Prespa Agreement between Greece and (what is now) North Macedonia, resolved a long-standing dispute between Greece and its northern neighbor over nomenclature. Again, this is a sign of Greece’s pragmatic reassessment of its historic positions, a Greece less prone to visceral atavistic posturing. Greece appears as a more serious nation in the region and which can now claim dividends, especially on the military and economic level.
The deeper relations between Greece, Israel, Egypt and Cyprus are of greater importance for Greece’s new, more robust military capability. The relationship with Israel has resulted in joint military exercises, Israeli investments in Greece and increased tourism from Israel to Greece.
An acknowledgment of the cultural, regional and historical commonalities of the two nations, also diasporic states, has (hopefully) put an end to anti-Semitic sentiments on the Orthodox right, and equally anti-Semitic support for what can be called , “the Palestinian cause” in the 1970s on the left. Greece wants peace in the Middle East, but gun politics in the PLO and PLA are long gone, especially as many in the Greek political community have felt betrayed by the open support Palestinians to Turkey and Erdogan.
The betrayal was felt deeply as five UN-flagged Greek passenger ships sailed into the port of Tripoli in 1983 to evacuate the embattled forces of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. The arrival of the ships from Cyprus had been delayed by Israeli gunboats which pounded PLO positions in the port, sinking one freighter and severely damaging another.
The moves by leftist and conservative governments in Greece to recognize historic Jewish Greek communities (many of which are ancient) and the decimation of Thessaloniki’s Jews by the Nazis created a more substantial relationship between Israel and Greece.
Underscoring the complacency between Israel, Greece, Egypt and Cyprus are the rights to drill splinters on Goliath gas reserves in the Mediterranean. All of this has made Turkey’s Prime Minister, Mr. Erdogan, look like a strange man. Mr. Erdogan’s unilateral interference in Libya, his mixed responses to Russia and China and the instrumentalization of the refugee crisis have made him lose friends in the EU and the United States. Worse, he lost Turkey one of his deepest friendships, Israel.
France, seeking to assert itself, weighed its support behind Greece. It leveraged its historic influence over North Africa and Lebanon (once colonies) and made good business selling new and used jet fighters and frigates to Greece. Greece has just received six used planes from the French Air Force this year, six more will be needed next year and has ordered six additional new Rafale jet fighters to build a squadron of 24.
Nedos in his Kathimerini the article states that Turkey operates 260 F-16s and 19 Phantoms. F-16s in Block 30, Block 40 and Block 50 configurations entered the Turkish Air Force in 10 stages between 1987 and 2012. In 2002, Ankara joined the Joint Strike Fighter program, which became the Fifth generation F-35 fighter. Turkey ended up ordering 100 F-35As, participating in the program with its defense industry. In 2018, the first Turkish F-35 was tested in Fort Worth, Texas, and it was estimated that by 2020 the first six fifth-generation fighters would already be in Turkey. However, in 2019 Turkey was kicked out of the program due to its purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft systems.
While Ankara now awaits approval for the modernization of its F-16s, the purchase of new F-16s and renewed access to spare parts, Athens has moved forward.
Greece has a total of 153 F-16s, of which 83 are being converted into Vipers, six French Rafales (with another 18 to be received by 2024), 24 Mirage 2000-5s and 34 F-4E Phantoms. Of the 153 F-16s, 38 belonging to the Block 50 configuration will be modernized, while among the Block 30, some will continue their deterrence work and others will be converted into training aircraft for new pilots in the Aegean Sea.
In 2023, negotiations with the United States on the F-35 should begin with the aim of landing the first (of the 20+20 requested) in Greece in 2027-28.
Additionally, the addition of new Italian M-346 trainers at the Kalamata training center makes the Hellenic Air Force a power to be reckoned with throughout the Eastern Mediterranean region.
It’s hard to say how the new balance of power in the region is playing out. Mr. Erdogan continues to conjure up regressive visions of a new kind of Ottoman imperialism, as the Turkish economy suffers and secular and progressive Turks are harassed, imprisoned or exiled. He seeks to expand his influence on the Muslim world by turning Agia Sophia into a mosque and referring to the explosion and destruction of Greek communities in Turkey in 1922, not exactly great for relations with Greece.
Regardless of Greece’s new air superiority, it will have to plan for a post-Erdogan Turkey. Many anti-Erdogan urban middle-class Turks are now seeking refuge in Greece and are branded “traitors” by Mr. Erdogan.
What is clear, however, is that Greece’s more pragmatic and less nationalistic foreign policy has resulted in a more powerful and modern air capability, and better relations with all but Turkey.