On Thursday, after attending the EFES-2022 exercises held in Izmir, I had the pleasure of meeting with National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar together with a group of media colleagues.
Numerous hot-button topics are on the agenda: Mounting tensions with Greece over to the West, preparations for an operation in Tal Rifat and Manbij to the South, negotiations underway in the North to release grains from Russia and Ukraine...
At such a critical juncture, Akar's answers to our questions, which delved right into the heart of the aforementioned issues, were of great importance.
I will here summarize the answers given by the Defense Minister to our questions, but before I move on to that part, I do not want to gloss over the following words of Akar, who, while speaking about the exercises, explains how devotedly the members of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) are carrying out their work to ensure the security of our country:
“What you see within the scope of the exercise is a day in the life of the Turkish Armed Forces. In these daily activities carried out by the TAF, planes hit targets and sweeps are carried out. This happens every day. In terms of combat experience, no one can hold a candle to the work of our soldiers, the Turkish Armed Forces.”
An important part of our conversation with the Minister of National Defense was dedicated to mounting tensions with Greece.
Here, Akar referred to history, to geography, to 1919 and 1922, and conveyed a message to Athens along the lines of: "don't resort to provocations."
The following were his exact words on the subject:
“Proxy wars have been going on for centuries. Remember 1919. How dare Greece come here alone. In 1922, Greece hanged six prime ministers, ministers, and chiefs of staff, asking them ‘why did you get us into trouble,’ their own administrators. We’d tell them: ‘look back on history, geography, circumstances, don’t try to punch above your weight, do not heed everyone's suggestions and incentives.’”
U.S. BASES IN GREECE
The framework drawn by Minister Akar regarding the increasing number of U.S. bases in Greece was important in that it summarized Ankara's approach to this issue.
Here’s what Akar had to say about this:
“In 1980, a defense and economic cooperation agreement was signed between Türkiye and the U.S. Greece did the same. They renewed it in 2020. In this framework, they increased the number of bases, which previously stood at five. The most prominent of these is Alexandroupoli. There are official statements that the LNG warehouse for Alexandroupoli will be used as a logistics center for U.S. support of the defense of Europe. They officially say this, and the images back it up. The Greeks, however, try to spin this as if they are against Türkiye. However, when you put all of this aside and look through the eyes of a soldier or a diplomat, can you confidently say: "This is definitely about LNG, it has nothing to do with us"? You cannot. Thus everything is a matter of follow-up and precaution.”
ARE THE CONDITIONS RIPE FOR AN OPERATION IN NORTHERN SYRIA?
I also asked the National Defense Minister Akar about the ongoing preparations for the looming operation in Syria.
Akar addressed the critics: "Can an operation be carried out by talking and explaining so much?" "There are many different styles of politics and international relations." This was his reply.
When PKK/YPG terrorist organization's statements that they will act with the Syrian army against Türkiye were brought up, he said the following: "We should care about what we do, not what they say."
At one point, I asked Akar the question, "Are conditions ripe for an operation?"
“An operation is maths, it's logistics. It’s calculated and planned, and action is taken at the right time and place. Our goal, our aim is to neutralize the terrorists. Our struggle will continue until the last terrorist is neutralized.”
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MONTREUX AND THE GRAIN CRISIS
Speaking in the context of the Russia/Ukraine war, Minister Akar mentioned that it is very important to preserve the balance struck in Montreux.
He shared the following information about the scope of the grain issue, which has become crucial in recent days, addressing Türkiye's role:
“Talks are covering the following issues: Ukrainians clearing mines in the port, Grains to be escorted by the Russians through certain corridors after leaving the port until they enter the assembly area, clearing possible mines, and then to ensure the safe navigation of commercial ships, preferably by Türkiye. We want to finish the job as soon as possible. We have been carrying out intense negotiations with both Russia and Ukraine. Both sides have some reservations. We are also working to eliminate those. We are hopeful about that.”