Turkish air and naval forces conducted joint training exercises in the Aegean Sea, the country’s Defense Ministry said Saturday, amid increasing tension with its neighbor Greece over hydrocarbon discoveries.
F-16 fighter jets took part alongside warships to “enhance, maintain and improve the operational capability of joint inter-forces operations,” the ministry tweeted.
The announcement came as NATO members Turkey and Greece are facing off in the Eastern Mediterranean over gas and oil exploration and a day after Turkey declared significant gas discoveries in the Black Sea.
Greek officials, on the other hand, said Friday that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) would also dispatch fighter jets to the southern Greek island of Crete for joint training next week.
Turkey last week resumed energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean after Greece and Egypt signed a controversial maritime delimitation deal.
The agreement came days after Ankara said it would postpone its oil and gas exploration as a goodwill gesture.
But after declaring the Greek-Egyptian deal "null and void," Turkey authorized the Oruç Reis seismic research vessel to continue its activities in an area within the country's continental shelf.
That led Greece to place its armed forces on high alert and send warships to the spot, demanding the withdrawal of Turkish vessels. The Greek and Turkish navies have been engaged in a game of brinkmanship in waters between the islands of Crete and Cyprus and Turkey.
Turkey has accused Greece of trying to exclude it from the benefits of oil and gas finds in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. It argues that Greek islands should not be included in calculating maritime zones of economic interest – a position Greece says contradicts international law.
Greece has around 6,000 islands and smaller islets in the Aegean and Ionian Seas. More than 200 of them are inhabited. On the other hand, Turkey has the longest coastline in the Mediterranean.
Turkey has also said that energy resources near the island of Cyprus must be shared fairly between the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which has issued Turkish Petroleum (TPAO) a license for oil and gas exploration and drilling, and the Greek Cypriot administration.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the only solution to the dispute was through dialogue and negotiation and urged Athens to respect Turkey's rights.
Greece, the Greek Cypriot administration and France have demanded that the EU impose sanctions on Turkey due to its activities in the region.
Last week, EU foreign ministers expressed "full solidarity" with Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, urging an "immediate de-escalation" as Greek and Turkish ships shadowed each other.
Following the EU’s declarations, the Turkish Foreign Ministry late Thursday called on the bloc to adopt an objective and honest stance on the issue.
Ankara said the recent EU declarations confirmed that the bloc had become the prisoner of two member countries’ manipulations and blackmail.
“If the European Union wants to be a part of the process for peace, welfare and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, it must be objective and honest," it added.