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Greece to boost military capabilities amid Turkey tensions

September 13, 2020

Turkey has been engaged in a row with Greece over natural gas exploration in the Mediterranean Sea's disputed waters. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for a diplomatic solution to the confrontation.

Greek Hydra-class frigate Psara (F-454) of the Hellenic Navy and a military helicopter taking part in a military exercise in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, on August 25, 2020
Image: AFP/Greek defence ministry

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Saturday announced a major overhaul of the country's military and a "robust" arms purchase amid growing tensions with Turkey over hydrocarbon resources and naval influence in the Mediterranean Sea.

"The time has come to reinforce the armed forces ... these initiatives constitute a robust program that will become a national shield," Mitsotakis said in a keynote address in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

Mitsotakis said Greece would acquire 18 French-made Rafale jets, four multi-purpose frigates and four navy helicopters, while also recruiting 15,000 new troops and pouring resources into the national arms industry and cyber-attack defense.

New anti-tank weapons, navy torpedoes and air force missiles will be secured, the PM said.

Read more: Turkey threatens Greece over disputed Mediterranean territorial claims

The standoff between two NATO members has sparked fears of military conflict.

Tensions escalated last month when Turkey sent an exploration vessel and a small navy flotilla to conduct seismic research in waters that are claimed by Greece. Athens responded by sending its own warships and by staging naval exercises with several EU allies and the United Arab Emirates.

Growing conflict

Rising tension

France has strongly backed Greece in the conflict, with Defense Minister Florence Parly welcoming the arms deal.

Dassault Aviation, which makes Rafale planes, said it was "delighted" with the Greek order.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to not cross "red lines" in the eastern Mediterranean. On Saturday, Erdogan told Macron "not to mess" with Turkey.

On Saturday, Mitsotakis said that Turkey "threatens" Europe's eastern border and "undermines" regional security.

Read more: EU to consider sanctions on Turkey over Mediterranean gas drilling

In an article published in The TimesFrankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Le Monde this week, Mitsotakis said he was ready to start a dialogue with Turkey, provided Ankara stops acting "like a provocateur."

"We do need dialogue, but not when held at gunpoint," Mitsotakis wrote.

"If we cannot agree then we must seek resolution at the (International Court of Justice at the) Hague," he said.

Read more: Opinion: Greece and Turkey have to sacrifice to find real compromise

Turkey vs Greece: Is Erdogan willing to risk war?

US urges restraint

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Greece and Turkey to avoid confrontation, saying the ongoing military tensions between two NATO allies only serve the alliance's enemies.

"Increased military tensions help no one but adversaries who would like to see division in trans-Atlantic unity," Pompeo said after talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

Read more: Germany urges end to military exercises in the Mediterranean as Turkey announces drills

Pompeo said US President Donald Trump has already spoken with Erdogan and Mitsotakis, urging them to end the standoff.

"We remain deeply concerned by Turkey's ongoing operations, surveying for natural resources in areas where Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean," said Pompeo, repeating Washington's support for Cyprus' right to exploit hydrocarbon deposits in its territorial sea and exclusive economic zone.

Pompeo said that any potential hydrocarbon wealth should be shared between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.

Cyprus has been divided into a Greek-Cypriot south and a Turkish-occupied north since a 1974 invasion by Turkey in response to a coup seeking to unite the island with Greece. A breakaway state in the north is recognized only by Turkey.

Read more: Turkey slams US over lifting Cyprus arms embargo, Nicosia welcomes decision

shs/sri  (AFP, AP)

EU set to sanction Turkey