Wary of Wars in Gaza and Ukraine, Old Foes Türkiye and Greece Test a Friendship Initiative

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis leave after speaking to the press following their meeting in Athens during Erdogan's official visit to Greece, Dec. 7, 2023. (AFP Photo)
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis leave after speaking to the press following their meeting in Athens during Erdogan's official visit to Greece, Dec. 7, 2023. (AFP Photo)
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Wary of Wars in Gaza and Ukraine, Old Foes Türkiye and Greece Test a Friendship Initiative

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis leave after speaking to the press following their meeting in Athens during Erdogan's official visit to Greece, Dec. 7, 2023. (AFP Photo)
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis leave after speaking to the press following their meeting in Athens during Erdogan's official visit to Greece, Dec. 7, 2023. (AFP Photo)

Old foes Türkiye and Greece will test a five-month-old friendship initiative Monday when Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visits Ankara.
The two NATO members, which share decades of mutual animosity, a tense border and disputed waters, agreed to sideline disputes last December. Instead, they’re focusing on trade and energy, repairing cultural ties and a long list of other items placed on the so-called positive agenda, The Associated Press said.
Here’s a look at what the two sides hope to achieve and the disputes that have plagued ties in the past:
FOCUSING ON A POSITIVE AGENDA Mitsotakis is to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Monday as part of efforts to improve ties following the solidarity Athens showed Ankara after a devastating earthquake hit southern Türkiye last year.
The two leaders have sharp differences over the Israeli-Hamas war, but are keen to hold back further instability in the eastern Mediterranean as conflict also continues to rage in Ukraine.
“We always approach our discussions with Türkiye with confidence and with no illusions that Turkish positions will not change from one moment to the next,” Mitsotakis said last week, commenting on the visit. “Nevertheless, I think it’s imperative that when we disagree, the channels of communication should always be open."
“We should disagree without tension and without this always causing an escalation on the ground," he added.
Ioannis Grigoriadis, a professor of political science at Ankara’s Bilkent University, said the two leaders would look for ways “to expand the positive agenda and look for topics where the two sides can seek win-win solutions,” such as in trade, tourism and migration.
EASY VISAS FOR TURKISH TOURISTS Erdogan visited Athens in early December, and the two countries have since maintained regular high-level contacts to promote a variety of fence-mending initiatives, including educational exchanges and tourism.
Turkish citizens this summer are able to visit 10 Greek islands using on-the-spot visas, skipping a more cumbersome procedure needed to enter Europe’s common travel area zone, known as the Schengen area.
“This generates a great opportunity for improving the economic relations between the two sides, but also to bring the two stable societies closer — for Greeks and Turks to realize that they have more things in common than they think,” Grigoriadis said.
A HISTORY OF DISPUTES Disagreements have brought Athens and Ankara close to war on several occasions over the past five decades, mostly over maritime borders and the rights to explore for resources in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean seas.
The two countries are also locked in a dispute over Cyprus, which was divided in 1974 when Türkiye invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Türkiye recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in the island’s northern third.
The dispute over the exploration of energy resources resulted in a naval standoff in 2020 and a vow by Erdogan to halt talks with the Mitsotakis government. But the two men met three times last year following a thaw in relations and a broader effort by Erdogan to re-engage with Western countries.
The foreign ministers of the two countries, Hakan Fidan of Türkiye and George Gerapetritis of Greece, are set to join the talks Monday and hold a separate meeting.
RECENT DISAGREEMENTS Just weeks before Mitsotakis’ visit, Erdogan announced the opening of a former Byzantine-era church in Istanbul as a mosque, drawing criticism from Greece and the Greek Orthodox church. Like Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia, the Chora had operated as a museum for decades before it was converted into a mosque.
Türkiye, meanwhile, has criticized recently announced plans by Greece to declare areas in the Ionian and Aegean seas as “marine parks” to conserve aquatic life. Türkiye objects to the one-sided declaration in the Aegean, where some areas remain under dispute, and has labeled the move as “a step that sabotages the normalization process.”
Grigoriadis said Türkiye and Greece could focus on restoring derelict Ottoman monuments in Greece and Greek Orthodox monuments in Türkiye. “That would be an opportunity” for improved ties, he said.



Netanyahu Dissolved His War Cabinet. How Will That Affect Ceasefire Efforts?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center, in Ramat Gan on June 8, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center, in Ramat Gan on June 8, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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Netanyahu Dissolved His War Cabinet. How Will That Affect Ceasefire Efforts?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center, in Ramat Gan on June 8, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center, in Ramat Gan on June 8, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded his war cabinet Monday, a move that consolidates his influence over the Israel-Hamas war and likely diminishes the odds of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip anytime soon.

Netanyahu announced the step days after his chief political rival, Benny Gantz, withdrew from the three-member war cabinet. Gantz, a retired general and member of parliament, was widely seen as a more moderate voice.

Major war policies will now be solely approved by Netanyahu's security cabinet — a larger body that is dominated by hard-liners who oppose the US-backed ceasefire proposal and want to press ahead with the war.

Netanyahu is expected to consult on some decisions with close allies in ad-hoc meetings, said an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

These closed-door meetings could blunt some of the influence of the hard-liners. But Netanyahu himself has shown little enthusiasm for the ceasefire plan and his reliance on the full security cabinet could give him cover to prolong a decision.

Here’s key background about the war cabinet, and what disbanding it means for ceasefire prospects:

Why did Gantz join and then quit the war cabinet? The war cabinet was formed after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel when Gantz, an opposition party leader, joined with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in a show of unity.

At the time, Gantz demanded that a small decision-making body steer the war in a bid to sideline far-right members of Netanyahu’s government.

But Gantz left the cabinet earlier this month after months of mounting tensions over Israel’s strategy in Gaza.

He said he was fed up with a lack of progress bringing home the dozens of Israeli hostages held by Hamas. He accused Netanyahu of drawing out the war to avoid new elections and a corruption trial. He called on Netanyahu to endorse a plan that — among other points — would rescue the captives and end Hamas rule in Gaza.

When Netanyahu did not express support for the plan, Gantz announced his departure. He said that “fateful strategic decisions” in the cabinet were being “met with hesitancy and procrastination due to political considerations.”

How will Israel's wartime policies likely be changed? The disbanding of the war cabinet only further distances Netanyahu from centrist politicians more open to a ceasefire deal with Hamas.

Months of ceasefire talks have failed to find common ground between Hamas and Israeli leaders. Both Israel and Hamas have been reluctant to fully endorse a US-backed plan that would return hostages, clear the way for an end to the war, and commence a rebuilding effort of the decimated territory.

Netanyahu will now rely on the members of his security cabinet, some of whom oppose ceasefire deals and have voiced support for reoccupying Gaza.

After Gantz's departure, Israel's ultranationalist national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, demanded inclusion in a renewed war cabinet. Monday's move could help keep Ben-Gvir at a distance, but it cannot sideline him altogether.

The move also gives Netanyahu leeway to draw out the war to stay in power. Netanyahu's critics accuse him of delaying because an end to the war would mean an investigation into the government's failures on Oct. 7 and raise the likelihood of new elections when the prime minister's popularity is low.

“It means that he will make all the decisions himself, or with people that he trusts who don’t challenge him,” said Gideon Rahat, chairman of the political science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “And his interest is in having a slow-attrition war.”