Two “details” in the case in the Gulf following the shooting down of the USAF UAV by the Iranians merit further attention for Greece, on the one hand because it is obvious that the Gulf region is linked to the Eastern Mediterranean through a novel “convergence” of the Iranian Shi’a Islamic-Theocratic regime with Erdogan’s Turkey (which exhibits similar characteristics), on the other hand, because registered “behaviors” and choices seem “scandalously” similar to corresponding problems present in Greek international relations and defense…
Written by ZACHARIAS MICHAS and EFTHIMIOS TSILIOPOULOS *
The first “detail” concerns the seemingly timely choice of the Revolutionary Guards in Iran for downing the American UAV. The interest lies not so much on the regional level as on the domestic political scene in the United States.
Regarding the importance of the internal political conjuncture in Washington in the decision of the “Guards” to take the risk and move in this violent direction, an option so far justified, the situation can be logically analyzed on two levels. The first is the well-known dispute between the White House, namely President Donald Trump on the one hand and Congress on the other.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Democrat Nancy Peliozzi “banished the thought” of a possibility of a war with Iran, while Trump, after having attempted to downgrade the Iranian action speaking of a “personal initiative of a fool,” according to the The New York Times, revoking at the last moment the order to unleash a retaliatory strike against Iran.
The second and most interesting feature is the downing of the UAV, while there was an ongoing succession at the Pentagon, with Patrick Shanahan being succeeded by Mark Esper. This situation, although the US is a country with a constant and “stable” policy, plus decision-making procedures that are not entirely dependent on the American president (the proverbial ‘checks and balances’), apparently caused a degree of “malfunction” in the “system”.
Looking at the juxtaposition of this situation with the goings on between Greece and Turkey, the reluctance of the US system to act against Iran bears a striking similarity of Greece’s behavior towards Turkey.
The criterion used by the Iranians to gauge the time of their military reaction to the US military presence in the Gulf, with the aim of minimizing possible consequences (which has so far paid off), exhibits similar characteristics of the behavior of Turkey toward Greece.
The example of the Imia crisis may be the most recent and typical case, with the Turks exploiting the predictable disruption caused during the succession of Andreas Papandreou by Costas Simitis, as PM, and the lack of systemic stability that made Greece hostage to the preconceptions of the former Greek prime minister (Simitis). However, the history of Greek-Turkish relations is full of similar incidents, which were accurately described by prominent analyst Stavros Lygeros, on the occasion of an article by Simitis in Kathimerini newspaper, which bordered on war-mongering. This from a man that led Greece into a debacle.
The second “detail” concerns how Donald Trump’s United States treats Iran, at a level that certain respects resembles “strategic embarrassment.”
This is an observation that can be interpreted by the difficult operational environment of the Gulf that, due to geographical proximity and limited maritime space, favors the Iranians.
At the same time, no one can guarantee that a conflict will be “limited” between US and Iranian forces, as the Islamic Republic threatens to launch attacks on countries – allies of the Americans on the other side of the Gulf, attempting to reinforce deterrence by threatening to expand the conflict geographically.
THE US STRATEGIC QUANDARY VIS-A-VIS IRAN AND TURKEY
There are similar – though not identical – features in the situation on the front of Greece and Cyprus against Turkey, not so much because of the threat of deliberate involvement of several countries on the Turkish side, as the rivals in the Eastern Mediterranean have other “qualitative characteristics”, but because of the “embarrassment” with which the US faces Turkey. As it does Iran …
The United States is showing tremendous margins of tolerance, as it is hoping for a last-minute “miracle” that will cancel the prospect of the West losing Turkey, because of the purchase of the Russian S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic missile protection system.
And all this, despite the clear negative attitude towards Turkey by countries considered by Washington as significant regional allies, as well as in the Gulf, where strategic US allies are facing Iran.
If, in fact, it is shown that the United States will not even undertake a limited military retaliation against Iran for the downing of the unmanned aircraft, ie not rising to the Iranian challenge, then it would be reasonable to assume that the same “restraint” will be shown in case Turkey “steps out of line”.
All of the above observations should be studied and evaluated by those responsible for Greek defense. Perhaps these remarks make the National Defense Minister, a retired admiral, Evangelos Apostolakis, warn that if the situation in the area of the island group of Kastellorizo ‘heats up’, Greece must take into account that it could find itself alone.
This observation may be correct, but responsibility in the case of such a situation will also be on Greece. On the one hand, due to the neglect of its Armed Forces over a period of more than a decade, and on the other hand because of the persistently phobic attitude of Greece towards Turkey, using a conciliatory policy that eventually allows Turkey’s revisionism to spiral out of control.
If Greece were more consistent with a dissuasive policy towards Turkey at the military level, it would be much easier to find a crucial ally that would play their own deterrent role against Turkey’s regional revisionism.
When the stakes concern one’s own security and territorial integrity and sovereignty, then the party defending against such moves has the first say. The more trustworthy a country is, the more certain it is that it is sending its allies the message that they will not lose if they choose to actively support it, albeit in an ancillary role. In such events, it is reasonable to expect that they will ask the same if they find themselves in a similarly difficult situation, in the future.
With regard, more specifically, to the downing of the UAV, one might observe that Greece faces a similar problem in the Aegean. Turkish UAVs have been entering Greek National Airspace.
The question that has to be assessed by the Greek General Staff is whether the Greek side can show similar “cheek” with the Iranians towards the Turks and under what circumstances … Given that there is a looming upcoming crisis with Turkey, there is a strategic logic to attempting such an impetuous blow without, or with minimal escalation, and consequences in order to send the message and under what conditions?
THE ECONOMIC PARAMETERS OF ESCALATION IN THE GULF
At this point, however, the economic causes that always play a role, and sometimes the primary role, in decision-making should also be considered. At this juncture, yet another military adventure for the United States would cost huge amounts at a time when the gap in government spending vs inflows has grown (deficit increased by 40% in the first eight months in FY2019, an increase of $ 206 billion!), so there is also a question of fund availability.
The intention may be to limit the scale, but the “decoding” of the economic environment in the US may be a sufficient incentive to choose the escalation and geographic expansion of the conflict, in order to cause the aforementioned problems to the Americans. A head-on collision with Iran would require many months of preparation and infinite money.
Secondly, the price of crude oil has already increased, which means that more money is pouring into the coffers of US “enemies” (Russia, Iran, Venezuela), while there are no apparent alternative sources of supply.
An escalation in an area of highest interest in terms of energy security for the planet, or even the closure of the Straits of Hormuz, would cause an oil crisis with unpredictable consequences for the global economy, hitting US allies.
In addition, if the Straits of Hormuz are closed, the Iranians will channel their oil through Turkey, or via Russia. This will strengthen the informal “Moscow-Tehran-Ankara axis” (informal because there are many differences of opinion and interest on many fronts), something obviously undesirable.
A key feature of what is called the “stalemate machine”, which has been governing American military operations for 70 years, is that at the beginning of any conflict there is no ultimate goal or stated objective.
This explains why in all the wars in which the United States participated, they did not score a single victory (except in Grenada), but at best a tie, even against clearly weaker opponents.
This is always because of the absence of a clearly defined purpose. As a result, there is no distinct desired outcome on the part of the United States, i.e. what they want to achieve against Iran … The question is whether it is the same with Turkey. Because it is a parameter that will determine developments in the Eastern Mediterranean.
* Zacharias Mihas is the Director of Studies at the Institute for Security Analysis and Defense (ISAA) and Efthymios Tsilopoulos, an international security analyst at the same Institute.