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Greece compares Turkey to North Korea in latest row with Erdogan

Erdogan’s remarks raise stakes in rivalry between fellow NATO members as threatening rhetoric escalates.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint press conference with Cuban President in Ankara, on November 23, 2022. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP) (Photo by ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images)

ISTANBUL — Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias likened Turkey to North Korea today after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Turkish missiles could hit Athens in a further escalation of the war of words between the NATO allies. 

“It is unacceptable and universally condemnable for threats of a missile attack against Greece to be made by an allied country, a NATO member,” Dendias said while attending a European Union meeting in Brussels. 

“North Korean attitudes cannot and must not enter the North Atlantic alliance.” 

Growing tensions between Ankara and Athens in recent months have fueled fears of a military confrontation between the neighbors. They have come to the brink of war three times in the past half-century, and their air forces often engage in dogfights in disputed airspace. 

Erdogan issued his chilling remarks at a question and answer session with young people in the Black Sea city of Samsun on Sunday night. 

“Now we have started to produce our own missiles. This production of course frightens the Greeks,” he said, sitting in an armchair and appearing relaxed in an open-neck shirt. 

“[When] you say ‘Tayfun,’ the Greek is scared. ‘It will hit Athens,’ he says. Well, of course it will hit. If you don’t stay calm, if you try to bring something from America to the islands, from here and there, a country like Turkey … has to do something.” 

The Tayfun, or Typhoon, is one of the latest additions to Turkey’s home-grown arsenal. The short-range ballistic missile, produced by Roketsan, was test-fired from a mobile launcher in October and traveled 561 kilometers (349 miles). Athens is just 222 kilometers (138 miles) from the nearest Turkish territory. 

The islands Erdogan was referring to are Greek possessions lying off Turkey’s western coast. In recent months, Ankara has complained that the deployment of military assets to islands in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas contravenes international treaties. 

Greece disputes Turkey’s interpretation of the agreements and says it is acting to defend its territory, pointing to Turkey’s sizable military presence on its west coast, including a large fleet of landing craft. 

Erdogan prefaced his comments about the missiles by noting investment in the Turkish defense industry under his 20-year rule, reducing reliance on foreign arms. “When we took office, the defense industry was 20% domestic; now it’s 80% domestic,” he said. 

The growth of the industry is a cornerstone of Erdogan’s vision for an independent and assertive foreign policy. Twelve years ago, there was only one Turkish defense company among the world’s Top 100, now there are three — Roketsan, Turkish Aerospace Industries and Aselsan — generating revenues of more than $4.7 billion between them last year. 

The Bayraktar TB2 drone is the industry’s posterchild, with the unmanned aircraft proving its worth on the battlefield in Syria, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh and most recently Ukraine. The system has been sold to more than a dozen countries, including NATO member Poland, and potential customers reportedly include the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay. 

While Turkey has boosted domestic arms production, fellow NATO member Greece has looked to bolster its armed forces with overseas purchases. 

Following a naval confrontation with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean over the summer of 2020, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced a spending spree on Rafale fighter jets, frigates, helicopters, anti-tank weapons, torpedoes and missiles while also recruiting new troops. 

In a move likely to irritate Ankara, in June he announced a formal request to the United States for next-generation F-35 fighter jets. Turkey was kicked off the F-35 program — to which it had contributed billions of dollars in development — in 2019 in response to Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defense missiles. 

Furthering the long list of senior Turkish officials who have laid the blame for escalating pressure at Greece’s door, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Monday accused Athens of “unreasonable, illogical and unlawful demands and claims, as well as constant provocative actions and aggressive rhetoric.” 

Citing a video conference with military commanders, the Defense Ministry said Akar had called for Greek politicians and generals to “immediately abandon their intransigent and provocative attitudes” that they are using for “domestic political purposes.” 

Greek government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou, meanwhile, told an Athens news briefing Monday that Greece could be “neither terrorized nor intimidated,” adding: “Mr. Erdogan thinks that as many times as he repeats the irrational and unjust, he can make it rational and just. That is not going to happen.” 

He said that Greece was “absolutely determined” to defend “international legality … its sovereignty and its sovereign rights.” 

Both Turkey and Greece are due to hold elections next summer, and many observers note that saber rattling could be pitched at securing nationalist votes. 

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