Turkey’s Defense Ministry published a video on Friday alleging to show that its F-16s confronted Greek F-16s as the Greeks were heading from Crete toward an area where Turkey had declared a naval drill. Tensions are running high between the two NATO members. NATO head Jens Stoltenberg phoned Turkey’s president and begged Ankara to do “de-confliction” with Athens.
Meanwhile, Egypt and Greece ratified a maritime deal and the UAE sent F-16s to Crete last week, all part of a wider support for Greece that has emerged amid Turkish threats.
Turkey has threatened military actions and slandered Greece in recent weeks as Ankara lurches from crisis to crisis. The ruling regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has invaded Syria, bombed Iraq, sent mercenaries to Libya and now wants to muscle into Greek waters using an energy ship as an excuse to send an armada of naval ships off Crete.
Ankara declared a “Navtex” as a way to prevent Greece from overflying Turkey’s naval drills. It has used these international Navtex warnings before to cause tension near Greek islands.
The recent use of Turkish F-16s to warn off Greek ones was designed to put out a propaganda video to embarrass Greece as it secures more and more support in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s goal is to threaten and bluster and then appear to climb down via some kind of compromise. It also attempts to create a new crisis every month. This was the crisis for August; it may opt for a different crisis in September.
The overall context is that Turkey signed a deal in November 2019 with the embattled government in Tripoli to back one side in a Libyan civil war. Then it sent drones and weapons to Libya in violation of an arms embargo. After escalating in Libya, Turkey almost got into a crisis with Egypt, which drew a redline in Libya and demanded that Turkish-backed mercenaries stop their advance on Sirte. The birthplace of Muammar Gaddafi, it is located between Tripoli and Benghazi, where a second, Egyptian-backed government is based. So Ankara pivoted to harassing Greek islands, such as Kastellorizo.
Turkey also converted historic churches to mosques, which also angered Greece because of Greek-Orthodox connections to the churches, including Hagia Sophia which had been turned into a museum. The EU is now set to sanction Turkey over its aggression in the Mediterranean.
Greece has received support from France, Cyprus, the UAE and Israel. Now Greece also has Egyptian support after a maritime deal that was ratified this week. Former Egyptian foreign minister Mohammed Orabi also said in the UAE this weekend that Abu Dhabi has an important role to play in curbing Turkey’s role in the region.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron has also said that he has set redlines to stop Ankara in the Mediterranean. Germany’s government has also expressed support for Greece. Greek military exercises have backing from the UAE, Italy and France. Italy and Greece also ratified a deal this week, and Israel, Greece and Cyprus have a pipeline deal.
The response of Turkey to all this was to send its F-16s to humiliate Greece. Because Athens is getting a huge amount of diplomatic and military support, Ankara published the video asserting that it intercepted the Greek aircraft. The video looks more like a dogfight in Top Gun – and may momentarily make Turkey feel pleased with itself.