Turkey “fired” an open threat against Greece, with Turkish Naval Forces Commander to announce that the naval forces have received a new set of rules of engagement. During a briefing at the Blue Whale 2014 military exercise, Admiral Bülent Bostanoğlu revealed that “the Turkish navy has been authorized by the Turkish government to act on the crisis in Cyprus.” On board of TCG Büyükada, the corvette that sailed Greek territorial waters without permission last week, Bostanoğlu said answering a question about which rules of engagement the Turkish Navy would follow if Turkish vessels confront Greek or Israeli warships in the eastern Mediterranean.
“The Prime Ministry handed over the rules of engagement to the Chief of General Staff and the Chief of Staff handed them over to the Naval Forces Command. We will act in line with these rules of engagement in the event we face a situation over this issue.”
Tension went high in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, after Cyprus started oil and natural gas drilling projects in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off shore of the island state. Claiming that this research violate the rights of Turkey and Turkish-Cyprus, Ankara sent seismic vessel Barbaros for its own hydrocarbon research and one warship for the surveillance of foreign platform vessels being used for hydrocarbob exploration.
“The Turkish Naval Forces is providing support and close protection to the Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa Research Vessel. On the other hand, it continues to keep the drill ship hired by the Greek Cypriot administration under surveillance from nine kilometers’ distance. The order given to us for the moment is not to enter into this nine-kilometer area. That’s why no incident of harassment or disturbance has occurred,” Bostanoglu stressed.
Greece’s Military reaction
To Turkish threats, the answer of the Greek Armed Forces was prompt, even though not officially. Then while the Turkish Army is constitutionally above the political leadership, in Greece it is the Defense Minister authorized to make statements.
Speaking on conditions of anonymity, high ranking military sources said:
“We too have rules of engagement approved by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet not only in the Aegean Sea but also in the South-East Mediterranean in defense of our national interests. It would a surprise for us if Turks had not such rules. ”
Diplomatic sources -apparently from the Greek Foreign Ministry – have been attempted to down play Bostanoglu’s statement considering it “of no content” and saying that they totally agree with the high ranking military source, adding that the Turkish statements aimed for internal consumption by the Turkish public opinion.
Never ending conflict
In a trilateral meeting in Cairo on Saturday, the leaders of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt discussed security issues in the area and agreed to quickly proceed with the delination of the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).
According to Cyprus media, a new trilateral meeting with participation of Greece, Cyprus and Israel is under way. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades is due to visit Israel on December 2nd.
Cypriot spokesman Nikos Christodoulides said that “the meeting in Cairo was not limited to the three countries only but it also pave the way for cooperation with other states in the region to participate either fully or in different sections.”
Turkey has said that it would not withdraw the vessel Barbaros as long as the Cypriots do drilling the area, and issued a notice that a Turkish seismic vessel would carry out a survey until December 30th 2014 in the same area where the Italian-Korean energy consortium ENI/KOGAS is operating in the name of Cyprus.
According to HurriyetDailyNews,
“Ankara opposes the Greek Cypriot government’s exploitation of offshore energy reserves before a deal is reached to solve the decades-long division of the east Mediterranean island.”
However Cyprus can never agree to discuss “common exploitation of natural reserves” before a political solution settles the problems of island and its North that has been illegally occupied by Turkey since 1974.
Cyprus and Greece describe Turkey’s actions as “provocative”, while analysts in both countries warn that Turkey attempts to create a fait accomplis and legitimate its political claims.
With the Imia/Kardak military crisis in 1996, Turkey managed to question Greece’s sovereignty and create the famous “Grey Zones”.