On January 27, 2024, two days after the Biden administration again urged Congress to greenlight F-16 sales to Turkey, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at a public meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), "Our struggle did not end with expelling the enemy [Greeks] from our lands and throwing them into the sea from Izmir." It was a provocative statement given the massacre at Smyrna, today's Izmir, killed up to 100,000 and, according to scholars, amounted to genocide against Anatolia's Greek Christians.
On cue, just over a week later, Turkish analysts on CNN Türk discussed the prospects of Turkey launching Tayfuns, Turkey's first indigenous ballistic missile, at Greece. "If we fire it from Edirne or Izmir, we can hit Athens," they concluded.
Pride in "throwing Greeks into the sea" is mainstream among Erdoğan's government. It is also a popular slogan in Turkey. There are Turkish nationalist songs as well as annual public ceremonies that celebrate the massacre of Smyrna's centuries-old Christian population as "Izmir's liberation from enemy forces." To mark the 100th anniversary of the massacre in 2022, for example, one of Turkey's biggest pop stars gave a concert in the city center in Izmir, celebrating the slaughter. Hundreds of thousands attended.
The threat to launch missiles at Athens comes against a backdrop of Turkish revanchism. Turkey's media repeatedly claim ownership over 152 islands and islets in the Aegean Sea awarded to Greece in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, 1932 Convention between Turkey and Italy, and 1947 Treaty of Paris.
Greece is not alone as the target of Turkey's territorial demands. Hulusi Akar, a former defense minister who today chairs the parliament's National Defense Commission, threatened Armenia during a January 29, 2024 visit to Azerbaijan, suggesting Turkey could repeat its and Azerbaijan's ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh's indigenous Armenian population against Armenia proper. With Turkish backing, Azerbaijan continues to occupy several dozen square kilometers of Armenian territory.
As Turkey lobbied for F-16s as part of a quid pro quo to lift its hold on Sweden's NATO accession, it stopped overflights and harassment of Greek islands. That Erdoğan so quickly violated his agreement after receiving Biden administration endorsement of the F-16 sale suggests tremendous bad faith.
The Biden administration may celebrate Turkey's agreement to allow Sweden's NATO accession as a diplomatic win, but the growing risk of an intra-NATO war offset any benefit Sweden might bring. Addressing Erdoğan grievances or augmenting his military will not bring Turkey back into the community of responsible nations. Rather, the problem remains Erdoğan ideology. Ignoring that reality will not bring stability or security, but could rather destroy NATO and force the United States to confront yet another unexpected war in Europe.
Michael Rubin is director of policy analysis at the Middle East Forum and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.