Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has again extended operations by a seismic research vessel in disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean, days after threatening to shoot down UAE fighter aircraft if they approach Turkish vessels or territory. As Turkey insists on pursuing provocative actions and rhetoric, which the Greeks are determined to match, the US has announced that it is ending a 33-year arms embargo against Cyprus.
Turkey has had a seismic research vessel escorted by several warships exploring for gas in areas claimed by Greece in the Mediterranean Sea since early August. The Turkish navy issued a new advisory for the surveying mission on Monday, saying the ship would be working until September 12 instead of September 1.
The Greek Foreign Ministry reacted by saying that the new advisory was illegal. “Turkey continues to ignore calls for dialogue and to escalate its provocations. Greece won’t be blackmailed,” the ministry said in a statement.
Greece has dispatched its own naval ships to shadow the Turkish vessels. The European Union (EU) again called for dialogue between Ankara and Athens earlier on Monday.
Also on Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Greece’s reported deployment of troops to an island just off Turkish shorelines, saying Turkey would not tolerate such acts of ‘piracy’ in the Aegean and Mediterranean regions. According to media reports, Greek military personnel and supplies have been deployed to the island of Kastellorizo, a legally demilitarized island that lies less than three miles off Turkey’s coastline in the eastern Mediterranean.
“No one can confine Turkey, which has the longest coastline in the Mediterranean, to the shores of Antalya. We are determined to defend the maritime rights of our citizens and the people of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC),” Erdogan said following a tour of the Black Sea province of Giresun.
The EU has taken sides with member state Greece, calling on Turkey to stop the seismic research activities in the Mediterranean.
France is building up its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean and conducting joint drills with Greece. Turkey has been holding its own military exercises in the area.
Greece and Turkey almost went to war in 1974 over Cyprus, which has since been divided, with the northern third run by a Turkish Cypriot administration recognized only by Turkey and the southern two-thirds governed by the Greek Cypriot government. LINK
Late last week, Al-Quds Al-Araby reported that Turkey will not hesitate to shoot down any United Arab Emirates (UAE) aircraft if Turkish sovereignty is violated in the eastern Mediterranean.
“We will not hesitate to shoot down any UAE aircraft if it approached the Turkish waters or the work area of Oruç Reis near Crete Island in the eastern Mediterranean,” a source told Al-Quds Al-Araby.
According to the source: “The UAE is trying to play a role which is bigger than its size. It is playing with fire. If it violates the redlines or it approaches the Turkish waters, it will receive a harsh lesson.”
These warnings follow reports that the UAE has sent several F-16 fighter jets and other aircraft to Crete, in support for its ally Greece against Turkey.
The Greek chief of staff confirmed that the UAE aircraft would take part in joint military drills between the Greek and UAE air force, in order to increase readiness and improve combat abilities.
“These drills came as a result of the relations between the two countries,” the Greek chief of staff disclosed, noting the “strong” communication between the armed forces of Greece and the UAE. LINK
Meanwhile, the German newspaper Die Welt has claimed that sources from the Turkish military informed it that Erdogan asked his generals to provoke a political incident by sinking a Greek ship or shooting down a Greek fighter jet. The German newspaper article cites Turkish military sources in Constantinople. The post states:
“A few days ago, President Erdogan ordered his generals to sink a Greek ship but try not to cause loss of human lives. The generals refused to do so and the next idea was to shoot down a Greek fighter jet. There, again, the idea was for the pilot to get off the plane and save his life.”
In other words, the goal was to cause a hot episode but without human losses. According to Welt, these plans were rejected by the Turkish generals. LINK
In another related development, the US has finally taken a stance on the raging dispute between the NATO members and supposed allies. On Tuesday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that it will lift a 33-year arms embargo on Cyprus and deepen its security cooperation with Nicosia, prompting an angry response from Turkey.
Washington placed restrictions on the transfer of arms to Cyprus in 1987 to encourage reunification efforts and avoid an arms race on the island.
“Cyprus is a key partner in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said on Twitter. “We will waive restrictions on the sale of non-lethal defence articles and services to the Republic of Cyprus for the coming fiscal year.”
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said on Twitter after a phone call with Pompeo that he welcomed the move.
Turkey’s foreign ministry said the decision “disregards the equality and balance” on the island and that Ankara expects its NATO ally to “review” it.
“Otherwise, Turkey, as a guarantor country, will take the necessary reciprocal steps in line with its legal and historical responsibility to guarantee the security of the Turkish Cypriot people,” it said in a statement. LINK
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