“Greece and Turkey go to war.”
What would trigger such a headline? And what would a war between the two NATO allies look like?
Tensions between Greece and Turkey go back for hundreds of years in one of the world’s oldest rivalries.
As NATO members, both countries are strategically important to the U.S. The U.S. Air Force has nuclear weapons in Incirlik in Turkey, while the U.S. Navy and Air Force have a presence in several bases in Greece.
But under President Erdogan, Turkey has been bullying its neighbors and disregarding international law and conventions to advance its goals. Last year, the two countries almost went to war when Turkey threatened to conduct oil and natural gas surveys within Greece’s exclusive economic zone. Cooler heads prevailed, and a war was avoided. But what about next time?
A War. But Why?
A conflict between Greece and Turkey could spark in several different—intentional and accidental—ways. The two countries could go to war over an islet dispute—of which there are hundreds in the Aegean Sea, which borders the two countries—after an escalation following an air or naval accident—there have been several over the years—or in an attempt to placate domestic unrest—in the case of Turkey.
It’s important to note that in all of the above scenarios, Turkey would be the aggressor. Contrary to Ankara, Athens has no revisionist or expansionist aspirations. Greece doesn’t weaponize illegal immigrants to pressure Turkey into concessions. Greece doesn’t violate Turkey’s air space with armed fighter jets multiple times a day. Greece doesn’t send survey ships, accompanied by warships, in the exclusive economic zones of other countries.
Ruling a country with approximately 83 million people and a gross domestic product of close to $800 billion, Erdogan sees Greece, which has a population of 10 million and about $210 billion GDP, as a small nuisance. But a nuisance that is standing between Ankara’s ambition to expand its influence in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Africa.
With the Turkish economy in a free fall without a parachute, Erdogan might try to appease domestic displeasure and unrest with foreign adventures. With his numbers falling, Erdogan might try to do something before the 2023 elections.
We’re Going to War
A war between the two countries would probably be a very short one. External pressure from the U.S. and European Union wouldn’t allow for extended hostilities. Thus a conflict would likely last anywhere between a couple of days to a few weeks.
The shorter the war, the more focused first on the air and then at the maritime domains it will be. Meanwhile, a ground war is less likely in a short war as it would require the commitment of large forces.
War Between Greece and Turkey: The Air Component
Both countries will first try to achieve air superiority. Whoever manages to dominate the skies will have an undisputed advantage over the other.
Turkey has 251 fighter jets, mostly variants of the F-16 and some F-4 Phantoms, while Greece has a fleet of 233 fighters, which is more diverse and includes the newly acquired F3R Rafale, F-16, F-4s, and Mirage 2000-5Mk2.
Following the failed 2016 coup d’état attempt, the Turkish military has been considerably weakened. The Turkish Air Force has been hit the hardest. Over 60 percent of its aviators and maintainers have been jailed or kicked out from the military. As a result, aircraft are not very well maintained, triggering a fall in operational preparedness.
Equally alarming is the future of the Turkish Air Force. If Ankara isn’t able to bypass Congress and the reservations of the Biden administration and upgrade its fighter fleet, by 2035, it would have become obsolete and easy prey for the Hellenic Air Force, which ranks among the best in NATO is already upgrading its fleet.
War Between Greece and Turkey: The Sea Battles?
In the seas, Turkey has more ships, but Greece seems to have better sailors. Last year when the two countries went to the brink of war, a Greek frigate rammed a Turkish after the latter tried to intimidate the Greek warship. Further, the Greeks were constantly tracking Turkish submarines, while the Turks had no idea where the Greek subs were.
But special operations forces will also play a big part. Both countries have invested a lot in their commando forces, and their respective military leaderships understand the value of special operations in a conflict.
During the Imia crisis of 1996, when the two countries almost went to war, Greek and Turkish Navy SEALs almost clashed on a Greek islet that Turkey disputed. Since then, the two countries—and Greece particularly—have doubled down on their commando units.
A conflict between Greece and Turkey could also spill over—or indeed start from—Cyprus. Since the Turkish invasion in 1974, Cyprus has been divided. A war could offer Greek Cypriots the excuse to unify the island by force.
1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.
October 18, 2021 at 3:29 pm
A fight between the two would likely amount to no contest.
Turkey has extensive experience fighting or attacking in syria and nargono karabakh and also Libya.
And also aiding gulf sheikhdoms.
October 18, 2021 at 10:31 pm
Great ,real and accurate analysis !
I would expect Israel and US to be in favor of supoorting Greece instead of Turkey.
This is important because most of Turkey’s UAV’s software and digital equipment are provided by ELBIT.
Russia will be infavor of Turkey, huge loss for Greece.
Last very important issue, Turkey is funding close to 150m USD for US lobby, Greece is funding just 200k for US lobby. Huge mistake !!
Greek Airforce pilot
October 18, 2021 at 11:36 pm
Full of bullshit. Can’t believe this is published. So called journalist.
May 12, 2022 at 1:07 pm
Eeh, yeah why they published that and they didn’t publish an article praising Turkish supremacy over the known and unknown universe so our Turkish friends who have no other institution to believe in rather than the army can sleep better and feel they are now going to be a Global Superpower with 70% inflation and wages lower than failed post Soviet states …
October 19, 2021 at 3:53 pm
I thought I could have read an insightful analysis, not just a long list of wet dreams of a failed Greek soldier…
May 12, 2022 at 1:05 pm
Well, you are more than welcome to read Anadolu and Yeni Safak imagining “military victories over Russia” and Turkish borders from Siberia to America… In that way, your Augmented Erdogan reality will not be harashed and you will continue dreaming supremacy and pink homelands.
May 12, 2022 at 1:23 pm
Well,you are more than welcome to read Yeni Safak and Daily Sabah celebrating imaginary “military victories” of the most fearsome and effective army-against Russia for example- the known and unknown universe has ever seen…
Btw now it’s 2022, so we are still waiting to see a tough and hard stance of the “second biggest army of NATO” against Russia or at least some sanctions…
October 19, 2021 at 7:26 pm
Why did Turkey didnt sign and join UNCLOS with 164 countries? It would be so helpful that the rules of the UN should be applied to everyone. And the US as a double standard society fights for the appliance of the UN principles in the south China sea, so what changes in East Mediterane that the US is NUMB? Why do we have to speak the things to someone who wants to hear, but not the truth,as NATO and UN are based on? Turks have no rights in East Mediterrane and that’s a fact, so they start piracy. But what the most powerful nation does? She closes her eyes for the sake of her own geopolitical games,and refuses to openly condemed the wrongdoer,urge him to sign UNCLOS.Also that wrong doer continues genocide people as he was doin in the begining of 20th century,but its seems geopolitical games are more important of human loses.Also the lack of dignity,integrity wont let you see clear,speak the true,share a right no matter what.
October 30, 2021 at 2:28 pm
If the US still has nukes at Incirklik, then they need to get them out pronto. Turkey is circling the drain because of Erdogan, and keeping nukes at a hared base inside that country is an act of simple minded idiocy.
December 5, 2021 at 11:54 pm
Even your mother does not believe in your writings:-)
Turkish army is one of the strongest in the world, has its own productions on all military weapons such as submarines, helicopters, the most efficient armed drones and the others…
Greece can never stand against of Turkey, but begs for help from France and America.
May 12, 2022 at 1:01 pm
Repeat it 3 times per day
Then go kiss your president’s photo
Then Go sleep
You will definitely feel better after that member of”strongest army of the world”…
Btw, you seem to be familiar with begging, right? (UK-1830s till late 1870s, France-Crimean war, Russia-now etc.)
Yeah, much better if you do the above mentioned remedy. You will certainly comfort your nerves
May 12, 2022 at 1:25 pm
Yeah, repeat now this thing three times per day.
Then go kiss your president’s photo.
In the end, go sleep.
Repeat this for 4 weeks and then your nerve system will relax, cause you seem a bit tense…
January 16, 2022 at 12:30 am
In a possible war there is no winner!
Both parties shall have no winner and 3rd parties shall settle any difference with no interest for Turkey or Greece.
These neighbors have strong relations and economical investments.
Whoever doesn’t know it’s simply an indolent person without true personal opinion.
Turkish people had been long time diverted to another course towards its neighbor so that internal economical crisis and impoverishment is forgotten. Turkish are afraid of speaking the truth. A war shall never solve any economical issue for people that barely make it and starve.
Implementation of True democracy and EU membership is the only salvation!
January 19, 2022 at 2:21 am
Turkey has her own weapon production as well as frigates. For those who know Turks shall never reach Greeks seamanship simply because Greeks know the Aegean like no one else!
It is a combination of competency and equipment … what can you do with an equipment without competence ?
There is no need to mention anything about submarines … Turks know that they will be defeated.
As for the Air Force … do you know any Turkish pilot being awarded by NATO ?
It was always the Greeks … considered as best world pilots after the Israel and US.
Lastly the islands are fully armed against any enemy … if there were not Turks would have invaded yesterday.
So, it is better for Turkey to move forward and accept the international law of sea and challenge her rights based on written law and not like a bluster. It will not work!
Finally Israel which is equipped with more than 900 fighting aircraft among of which F35 shall not seat tight …
October 17, 2022 at 10:55 am
What a war between Greece and Turkey would look like – 19FortyFive
This is a very interesting blog post. I can’t wait to see what would happen if Greece and Turkey fought each other.
January 14, 2023 at 2:02 am
Looking at all the posts a weighing up the passion of both sides, perhaps a small lesson is history for the Turkish fans in here should be called for. I am ex British army, I know exceptionally well the value of all NATO members. The Turk’s however, are not or have ever been considered a valuable, trustworthy fighting force. They have quantity but not quality, by most of our NATO members they are considered barbarians where most still believe they have their long lost Ottoman empire. All democratic countries are standing against the Russians in their invasion of Ukraine, all except Turkey. By default all NATO members should follow the same lines of engagement against a common enemy, and this is the norm, all except Turkey. The US do NOT like the Turks, and neither so the other members of NATO or others countries of the free world. Turkey is a tool for NATO bases that will soon withdraw from their boarders. Greece has quality and as Churchill said “The Greeks don’t fight like heroes, heroes fight like the Greeks” A good lesson for the Turks.