The U.S. State Department’s plans to move ahead with the sale of 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets and the accompanying equipment to Turkey have elicited strong condemnation from across the political spectrum in Greece. The jets had been originally requested in October 2021, but Turkey’s 2020 procurement of the Russian-made missile defense system triggered U.S. sanctions, which, alongside Turkey’s poor human rights record, made the deal—until now—politically unfeasible.
The former ruling leftist party Syriza sees the sale as a threat to Greek strategic interests, particularly on the island of Cyprus. They denounced the proposed $20 billion deal of which the U.S. Congress received provisional notice last Thursday.
They accuse the ruling Nea Dimokratia administration, under Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, of selling out Greek interests in the face of NATO and American pressure. Specific concern was voiced by Syriza that jets procured by Turkey from the deal could be used to regularly violate Greek airspace.
The government’s dangerous foreign policy is having increasingly adverse consequences for Greek interests. At least it should be made clear that Greece rejects the unacceptable trade-off between the sale of F16s to Turkey—which will violate national airspace on a daily basis.
Syriza’s objections were supported by both the Greek Communist Party (KKE) as well as the right-wing opposition group Elliniki Lis. Greek diaspora groups in America have begun an intense lobbying campaign against the proposed sale.
Supported by the Biden administration, the planned sale has aroused the opposition of senior American lawmakers. The schism comes amid lingering tensions between Ankara and Athens over the contested island of Cyprus, along with territorial disputes in the Aegean sea, and the management of migration in the region. Tensions were heightened this past December when Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu issued a threat to the Athens government over perceived militarisation of the disputed Aegean islands—daily reports of Turkish violations of Greek airspace had been recorded by authorities.
The planned deal for the jets is interpreted as a way to appease Turkey and thereby gain its approval of Swedish and Finnish NATO ascension. Yet, the deal has received harsh criticism even from U.S. lawmakers conscious of Ankara’s blemished human rights record and its increasingly antagonistic rhetoric towards the West.
On Friday, January 13th, chairman of the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez announced plans to block the sale until such a time as Turkey cleans up its human rights abuses and ceased hostile rhetoric towards NATO allies. With the deal currently being reviewed by Congress, it is expected to remain in stasis until Turkey has rescinded its objections to the Swedish and Finnish candidacies to NATO.
In response to criticism from Athens and U.S. lawmakers, Turkey responded in kind by denouncing the supposed ‘endless’ demands made by Western allies on the country. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is expected to mention the matter as he prepares to visit Washington D.C. to discuss issues ranging from Syria and Russia.
A NATO member since 1952, Turkey has earned a reputation of playing both sides amid the ongoing Ukrainian conflict. Vetoing Swedish and Finnish membership within the military alliance, demanding that both states clamp down on Kurdish activists operating within their jurisdictions, the fallout from the announced deal is just the latest blow in Western-Turkish relations increasingly pushed to the breaking point over the past 12 months.