By on January 10, 2013
Endy Zemenides

Endy Zemenides

In antiquity, Delphi was considered the Omphalos, or center, of the universe. Greece’s strategic significance and geographic importance has been undervalued of late, but nonetheless, Omphalos status can no longer be claimed for Greece.

There are many milestones in global politics in 2013 that can affect Greece, Cyprus and stability in the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean. Here are five trends and flash points that will affect Hellenic issues in one way or another in 2013:

1. Iran: The debate over how close Iran is to developing nuclear weapons and what to do about it will heat up in the first quarter of 2013, especially after President Obama’s new national security team is in place and elections have finished in Israel. Turkey’s policy on Iranian sanctions has not been in line with the unified US-EU approach, and whether this creates more tension between Turkey and its Western allies is worth watching. Furthermore, a more severe sanctions regime may require a tightening of the net cast by the Proliferation Security Initiative, which relies heavily on participation by the Greek and Cypriot merchant marines.

2. Syria: Whether Syria will ultimately be considered part of the “Arab Spring,” the violence in the country has reached alarming levels – threatening spillover effects and the very existence of minority populations (including the Christian minority.) The longer the civil war continues and Assad remains in power, the more we will hear about Turkey’s geopolitical significance in containing Syria, and that will be used as the justification for Turkey’s weapons requests (Patriot missile batteries, guided missile frigates, and sidewinder missiles.) The downside for Turkey is a continued refugee crisis develops along its border with Syria, and as Syrian Kurds establish de facto autonomy in Syria (to go along with the de jure autonomy of Iraqi’s Kurds,) the demands of Turkey’s Kurds for greater rights or autonomy may present the most vexing challenge for Ankara.

3. Israel: Elections in Israel are almost certain to result in another Netanyahu government. Depending on the coalition that the Prime Minister puts together, this may result in new initiatives on the peace process with the Palestinians, on Iran, and on reconciliation with Turkey. Ankara, however, does not want to make reconciliation easy for Jerusalem. When news broke that Netanyahu was willing to issue some sort of apology for the Turkish deaths in the first flotilla incident, Turkey upped the ante by demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza. In a recent interview in Foreign Affairs, Turkish President Abdullah Gul conditioned Turkey’s support of a nuclear free Iran on a commitment to a nuclear free Middle East – thus demanding Israel decommission its non-declared nuclear arsenal. Finally, the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric in Turkey’s politics and press raises the questions of how deep-seeded the tensions between the two countries really are. This is likely to have tremendous consequence in Washington, D.C., where the pro-Israel community no longer demonstrates the same level of sympathy to Turkish interests as it has in the past.

4. Turkey’s constitution: The draft of the new Turkish constitution proposes a stronger President, with the speculation that Prime Minister Erdogan would seek the presidency. This has resulted in a new level of critique of Erdogan’s autocratic tendencies, his nationalistic bent, and his illiberal leanings. None of these traits are new, but the fact that the critique is raises the question as to whether Erdogan’s traditional supporters in Turkish society – most critically, the Gulen movement – has abandoned him. The open talk of President Gul being a competitor to, rather than a partner of Erdogan raises the specter of different leadership in Turkey. Would a government led by Gul be less nationalistic than Erdogan/Davutoglu?

5. More European integration: At some point in 2013 – perhaps after German federal elections in the fall – the EU is going to have to go from short term fixes for the continent’s economic crisis to more significant structural reform (e.g., a banking union, a more robust European Central bank, some level of debt mutualization, greater political union.) This raises the prospect of Greece taking over the presidency of a more robust European Union at the beginning of 2014, and gives Berlin and Brussels even more incentive to have Greece not only stabilized economically, but politically and socially (will the hints towards greater debt write off come to pass?).

Endy Zemenides is the Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), a national advocacy organization for the Greek American community. To learn more about HALC, visitwww.hellenicleaders.com

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