On December 11th, the Greek Air Force raised its 38 F-16 Viper fighter jets to intercept Turkish fighter jets entering Greek airspace, Greek media reported. The media said there were cases where one or two Turkish fighters were intercepted by four Greek pilots. According to the report, the Turkish Air Force flew 18 F-16s and 2 F-4E fighter jets.
Furthermore, the report claimed that the Greek pilots at all times had the “advantage” and would outmaneuver the Turkish aircraft if the need arose. Reports such as this are typical, as Greek maintains that Turkey frequently violates its airspace, despite both countries being NATO members.
Every day, the fighter jets of the two regional powers engage in mock dogfights over Greece’s eastern borders, maneuvering for “technical kills,” where one pilot locks his missiles onto his adversary’s aircraft, with only the push of a button separating this dangerous dance from war.
“For almost 30 years in the Aegean Sea, we have had to deal with our neighbors by ourselves,” explained the commander of the111 Wing fighter base Col. Dimitris Giannopoulos.
“It seems to me at times that whenever a top official from Turkey makes a statement, it is a statement that involves talk of war,” Greece’s defense minister, Nikos Panagiotopoulos. “War in Syria. War in the Middle East. War in the Aegean. Now if that isn’t aggressive rhetoric, then I’m wondering what type of rhetoric it is.”
Greece, Cyprus, and Israel have held an escalating series of large-scale military drills aimed at enhancing cooperation between their air and naval forces. Egypt has also taken part in many of these.
The latest source of tension between the NATO allies is Turkey’s dispatch of drill ships, escorted by warships, into Cypriot waters. This is made easier by the December 2019 agreement between the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) and Turkey on territorial waters.
Greece is treaty-bound to defend Cyprus’s territorial integrity, and Turkish encroachment on the island republic’s territory causes concern for Athens.
“We want peace in the region. We do not wish any kind of conflict. But at the same time, in order to maintain the status quo as it is, we are taking a very confident and resolute position against Turkish behavior,” Panagiotopoulos said. “There is no other way I’m afraid.”
And it does appear that the eastern Mediterranean Sea has all the markings of becoming a hot point, as it is highly contested at the moment.
“The eastern Mediterranean for many years was taken for granted,” Geoffrey Pyatt, the American ambassador to Greece, said. “But today it’s a region which is in play. We see Russia playing a more prominent role of course in Syria, China is asserting itself, Iran is present. These are all rivals challenging the order that the United States has tried to support in Europe and around the world.”
Tensions are evidently increasing, and it appears that Greece, Egypt, Cyprus and Israel are cooperating together, and specifically cooperating against Turkey.
“I think it’s a mistake to view the emerging cooperative framework in the eastern Mediterranean as being anti-Turkey,” Pyatt added. “I think the really important aspect of the Greek-U.S. piece of this is first of all that Greece and the United States share a strong interest in doing everything possible to see that Turkey remains anchored in the West, anchored in Western institutions.”
In October 2019, Egypt, Turkey and Cyprus released their joint declaration following the 7th Trilateral Cooperation Mechanism Summit between the three countries.
In it, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Nicos Anastasidas President of the Republic of Cyprus and Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister of the Republic of Greece, urged Turkey “to stop its provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean, which violate the international law. They called for withdrawal of the foreign forces frame Cyprus, asserting that the United Nations remains the sole frame through which a settlement to this issue could be reached.”
In addition, they “expressed their grave concern over the current escalation in the maritime parts of the eastern Mediterranean, and denounced the ceaseless Turkish measures in the Cypriot exclusive economic Zone and its territorial water, representing a violation of the international law, and the new attempts to make illegal drillings in the Cypriot exclusive economic zone that had been already demarcated.”
On December 11th, 2019, Egypt also carried out missile tests in the Eastern Mediterranean, launching them out of submarines.
Turkey maintains that it acts within international law in pursuing its interests and that Greece, Israel, Cyprus and Egypt can’t act without Turkish approval, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on December 9th.
“Turkey used its rights originating from international law in the Libya deal; Greece, Israel, Egypt and the Greek Cypriot administration cannot act without our approval,” he said. “The reason why Greece has gone berserk is because its hands are tied over the Turkey-Libya deal, the expulsion of the ambassador is an international scandal.”
Turkey is ready to give Libya “any kind of assistance” it needs, he said, “If Libya wants Turkey to send troops, we will decide on our own and won’t ask anyone for permission.” He criticized Egypt of supporting Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and allegedly violating UN resolutions.
Meanwhile, there were reports that the commander of the Navy of the Libyan National Army, Admiral Faraj Mahdaui, said that Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar ordered “to sink Turkish ships.”
The order of the LNA commander was given after Erdogan’s statements about his readiness to send the Turkish military to Libya to support the GNA’s forces.
The situation in the region is steadily becoming more and more dangerous.
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