The events in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean are indeed heating up. Press reports in Athens say that Turkish air fighters have been circling over Megisti, Kasterlorizo for the past 48 hours.
In such a context, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and his Israeli counterpart held a telephone conversation late last night to exchange strategies on the situation. According to what was announced, they invoked a mutual defence pact they signed secretly only two weeks ago when Defense Minister Panos Beglitis went to Israel in the light of heavy Turkish sea and air movements in the Eastern Mediterranean. Israeli officials, noted the report on defencenet, recorded many Turkish planes making observation flights in and around Megisti over the past 48 hours and that the flights were apparently escorted by Turkish combat jets.
Press reports also said that Athens raised concerns about a possible attack on the island that has less than 1.000 inhabitants. A separate report on the debka file confirmed this.
Specifically the report said that
Athens fears a Turkish attack on the island, whose population is fewer than 1,000, and an attempt to damage or seize it. Israel suspects that a Turkish attack on the Greek island will be the signal for Turkish military aggression against its oil and gas platforms located in the Mediterranean between Israel and Cyprus. Papandreou said the Turks are capable of surprise attacks on additional Greek islands near the Turkish coast.
Ankara would be acting on the pretext that Israel and Cyprus have no right to mark out and exploit the gas and oil zones of the eastern Mediterranean – a fuel-rich region known as Block 12 – without the consent of Turkish Cyprus (the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus – TRNC). Turkey also backs Lebanon’s complaint that Israel is robbing it of its natural resources. Talks between Lebanon and Cyprus to resolve this issue broke down. Beirut refuses any discussion with Israel.
Neither Jerusalem nor Athens has disclosed in what way they have invoked the new defence pact. Nonetheless, debkafile‘s military sources surmise that in the first stage, Israeli navy and air forces are to be posted at Greek Mediterranean bases. The two intelligence agencies are already sharing input. (The article on defencenet also makes notice of this)
Up until now, Israel could only respond to a Turkish threat from its own borders. With a presence at Greek military bases, Israel will be able to operate from the rear of Turkish forces in the event of an attack by those forces in the Mediterranean.
Papandreou also said he feared similar attacks in all the islands in the Eastern Aegean that are closer to the Turkish coast.
Papandreou then held an extraordinary meeting with military chiefs so that Greece can prepare accordingly.
A senior official was quoted as saying after the meeting that “we will do what we can, with all that we have, May God be with us”.
The Turkish government has chartered a Norwegian research vessel for carrying out marine research in a wide region that overlaps the Greek continental shelf south of Kastelorizo. A report on Proto Thema said that issuing a Mariners notice (NAVTECH), the Turkish authorities announced that between the dates September 15 to November 15, the Norwegian ship (BERGEN SURVEYOR) along with three accompanying ships -and possibly by Turkish warships as well- will conduct research in a wide area which includes pieces of Turkish, Cypriot and a little bit of Greek continental shelf near Greece’s Kastelorizo Island. Until late on Thursday night the ships were in Antalya. Ankara and Norway have not asked the Greek government if they can conduct research in Greek territorial waters. The announcement by Turkey prompted the Greek Foreign Ministry in Athens to call on its Embassy in Ankara to make an urgent demarche to the Turkish Foreign Ministry, calling for withdrawal from any research activity that affects Greek territorial rights in the region. A report from the state news agency said that parallel to this, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs also instructed the Greek embassy in Oslo to contact the company backing the Norwegian research vessel, as well as the Foreign Office of Norway, in order to make the Greek positions on the issue known.
UPDATE 2 – According to press reports the Norwegian vessel M / V BERGEN SURVEYOR and three accompanying ships took off from Antalya in Turkey three hours ago. Military officials in Athens are apparently monitoring their every move. (click here).
UPDATE 3 – Over the last few hours Turkish forces have apparently began preparing a military incident in the Eastern Mediterranean. So far, press reports in Athens say that the Turkish Armed Forces, under the guise of large-scale exercises, are moving army, navy and air force units in the region, in the framework of reinforcing their military presence in the Turkish coast. (click here).