Even as the bloody war between Russia and Ukraine rages, preparations seem to be on for another one — this time between two members of the closely-knit NATO grouping – Turkey and Greece.
The Special Forces of Turkey and Azerbaijan recently simulated a landing on Greek Islands as part of the ongoing joint military exercise ‘EFES-2022’. The two forces are expected to act together in case of a Greek-Turkish crisis, Greek City Times reported.
The scenario includes training “in penetrating behind enemy lines through the sea, clearing coastlines and attacking coastal enemy military installations as well as neutralizing targets,” according to a report by Pronews.
“Preparing for the EFES 2022 exercise, the Azerbaijan Army held training to infiltrate behind enemy lines by sea, clear the coastline, attack the enemy’s coastal military facility, and neutralize targets.”
As part of the drills, Turkish fighter jets violate Greek airspace and fly over Greek territory.
“On Friday, May 7, 2022, an unmanned aircraft flew at 12:55 above Makronisi Island and 12:56 above Cannibal Islands at 19,000 feet respectively.”
The simulation of the attack on Greece comes in the backdrop of the escalation in tensions between the two NATO countries. Greece has announced that it intends to triple the length of the steel wall along the country’s border with Turkey. It has also consistently accused Turkey of “instrumentalizing” migration to increase pressure on EU countries.
Though Turkey is a valuable NATO ally, which has been instrumental in military aid to Ukraine and hosting negotiations between the two warring sides — it is not a part of the European Union. Further, it remains locked in a territory dispute with Greece and Cyprus over the Aegean Sea.
Greece and Turkey have traditionally had strained relations on several issues, including disputed maritime boundary claims in the eastern Mediterranean that affects the energy exploration rights and governance-related matters.
Tensions began to escalate in 2020 due to the overlapping claims and exploratory drilling rights in the Mediterranean Sea. The Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) claimed by Greece and Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea are incompatible with Turkish perception and claim. This resulted in a limited naval confrontation.
The tensions have been running so high between the two sides that, last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he will stop speaking with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and cancel a major meeting, accusing Mitsotakis of antagonizing Turkey.
Previously, Turkey pulled out of a NATO drill that was held in Athens.
Ankara also continues to press for the demilitarization of the Greek islands, which the Mitsotakis government is discreetly implementing while sending weapons systems to Ukraine from the islands’ reserves, Greek City Times reported.
“If Greek violations continue, sovereignty of the islands will be called into question”, says Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu.
He added that Turkey will begin discussions on the sovereignty of the islands on international platforms if Greece continues breaching the treaties. pic.twitter.com/Yp2xzB0Qr5
— Global News (@GlobalNewsEU) May 26, 2022
Given the threat perception, Greece recently acquired Rafale fighter jets from France and has announced that it will negotiate the purchase of F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin.
On its part, Turkey has won US President Biden’s backing for the F-16 aircraft and could soon get the US fighters to upgrade its fleet.
Additionally, Ankara has asked the US to reconsider the F-35 deal after it was axed for buying Russian S-400 missiles. Meanwhile, Ankara is also building its own fifth-generation fighter jet TF-X with the first flight planned for the next couple of years.
Against this backdrop, Turkey has been sending signals of belligerence to Greece and has groomed its close partner Azerbaijan for supporting it militarily in case hostilities were to erupt between the two rival-turned-adversaries in the region.
The Brother Brigade Against Greece
According to Greek media and popular opinion in Athens, Ankara is following the “formula” of using mercenaries like Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who enlisted thousands of Western mercenaries in his military, essentially former Western military soldiers.
The sentiment in Athens is that Ankara is familiarizing Azerbaijanis with the Aegean environment in preparation for Azerbaijan’s “repayment” of Turkey for the victory over Armenia in 2021.
It is pertinent to note here that Turkey stood behind Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia and its Bayraktar TB2 drones proved to be a game-changer in the war.
Azerbaijani commando groups, modeled after the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), have gained traction as a new deterrent force over some time under the ‘Brother Brigade’ project. These blue beret commandos, who were mostly trained in Turkey to respond to any potential conflict crisis, are one of Turkey’s deterrent troops and new military strengths.
Turkey had already undertaken exercises with Pakistan against Greece in a similar scenario. While the simulation attacks are a less-than-covert warning to Greece.
EFES-2022 exercise is one of the largest planned exercises of the Turkish Armed Forces. More than a thousand foreign personnel from 37 countries are participating in the exercise which is expected to conclude sometime in the second week of June.
While the exercises are an important Turkish initiative aimed at interoperability, the simulation against Greece paints a grim picture. It is worth wondering whether another European war could be on the horizon.