Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Turkey threatens Greece with military takeover of Aegean islands

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Tuesday, September 6th 2022 à 14:35 | Read 434 times

The Aegean islands near the Turkish coast (here Rhodes), are under threat from Turkey (photo: Rhodes City Hall)
The Aegean islands near the Turkish coast (here Rhodes), are under threat from Turkey (photo: Rhodes City Hall)
TURKEY / GREECE. The quarrel between Turkey and Greece has reached a new level, Saturday, September 3, 2022, with the statement of Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the Greek government: "Your occupation of the islands is not binding on us. When the time comes, we will do what is necessary. We can arrive suddenly at night. Using this vocabulary usually used to refer to possible military operations in Syria, the Turkish president is referring to the islands in the Aegean Sea, very close to the Turkish coast. To further support the message, he adds a cryptic, "Hey, Greece, don't forget history. If you continue, you will pay a high price, very high (...) We have a word for Greece: Do not forget Izmir".

On September 9, 1922, one hundred years ago during the Turkish war of independence, the Turkish army took back, in fire and blood, this port city on the Aegean Sea (called Smyrna by the Greeks). A territory awarded to Greece by the Treaty of Sevres (August 1920) at the end of the First World War.

Greek troops on the islands of the Aegean Sea

This threat comes at a time when for several months, Athens reproaches Ankara for the overflight of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, on the edge of the Turkish border. According to the Turkish government, the Greek defense system has even "locked" several F-16s in the sky over Rhodes. This is the final maneuver before firing and remains a very rare act between two countries belonging to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Athens denies such an action.

It remains more ambiguous about the incident recorded south of the island of Lesbos, with two Turkish aircraft "harassed" by Greek aircraft. The Greek government says that these Turkish F-16s were in the "Flight information region" (FIR) without having announced themselves by a flight plan. "The Greek F-16s do not take illegal actions and do not harass the aircraft of other states. They are there to defend Greek airspace," replied the Greek authorities.

For its part, Turkey is still concerned about the presence of troops on these same islands, while two peace treaties signed after the two world wars (Lausanne in 1923 and Paris in 1947) and the Montreux Convention (1936) formally prohibit their militarization. Already, in June 2022, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, had warned that if Greece continued to deploy its army there, it would call into question Greek sovereignty over these islands.

Contested maritime and air borders

Reignited two years ago, the latent crisis between the two countries is now reaching its climax. It was triggered after the discovery of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean and the difficulty of conducting explorations because of disputed maritime borders. In the summer of 2020 and in October 2020, after the arrival of a Turkish seismic exploration ship, the Oruç Oreis, near the Greek island of Kastellorizo, Turkey had been severely chastised and sanctioned by the European Union. The delimitation of air borders is also the subject of recurring friction.

The embargo requested by Greece on the delivery of F-16s to Turkey by the Americans led to a break in dialogue between Turkey and Greece at the end of May 2022. In September 2020, Athens had been able to order eighteen Rafale and three frigates to Naval Group and MBDA in September 2021.

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