Incursions by military aircraft barely qualifies as news, having long been part of the complicated relationship between Greece and Turkey. The Greek airforce has routinely been intercepting Turkish aircraft violating airspace in an almost daily basis, to the extent that it is usually considered a non-event. This is not the case, however, regarding recent violations. According to Defence ministry officials, 138 violations of Greek airspace have been recorded over islands in the central and southern Aegean, recently, a number too high to be dismissed. Although the Turkish aircraft were easily intecepted by the Greek airforce, the mass incursions phenomenon is cause for alarm.
In an interview to Ant1 television, Defense Minister (and deputy PM), Panos Kammenos, dismissed the Turkish military activity as “cowboy antics”, aimed to intimidate Greece. “We want peace, we are not looking for a fight or for trouble in the Aegean, but there won’t be an aircraft which will not be intercepted,” he said.
The airspace violations are believed to have come as Turkey’s response to Greece’s refusal to extradict the eight military officers who fled to Greece in July, after the failed military coup. The soldiers were detained in Greece, accused of illegal entry, and Ankara demanded that they would be sent over, where they were facing charges of treason. The Greek court refused extradition which caused tension between two countries. The frail relationship between the two NATO allies was further challenged when Panos Kammenos flew by helicopter over the Imia islets, and threw a wreath into the sea, in memory of the three officers who lost their lives during the 1996 crisis, when Greece and Turkey came to the brink of war. Kammenos’ visit to the area came after Turkey’s heads of military forces visited a naval headquarters close to Kardak (as is the Turkish name for Imia), as part of an official inspection. Ankara’s ire was further ignited a few weeks ago, when the Greek deputy shipping minister, Nectarios Santorinios, made a statement about potential ways to exploit 28 small uninhabited Aegean islands.