Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Greece on Saturday it will pay a “high price” if it continues with what Ankara deems violations of Turkish airspace over the Aegean Sea. He said his country “will do whatever it takes when the time comes.”
“Hey Greece, look at your history. If you go too far, the price will be high,” Erdogan said at a defense systems expo. He was referring to Turkish claims that Greece’s anti-aircraft defense had targeted some Turkish F-16s on missions over the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. Under NATO rules, of which both countries are members, that would amount to “hostile action,” it said last week.
The Turkish aircraft were said to have been ‘harassed’ by the Greek S-300 anti-aircraft system in Crete, according to the government-controlled Anadolu news agency, when in fact they were flying through international airspace. Athens rejects that claim.
Tensions between Greece and Turkey have risen again recently over a series of disputes, with mutual accusations of violations of each other’s airspace being the most sensitive issue. Turkey also alleges that Greece is illegally arming its islands in the eastern Aegean Sea, which is prohibited under several treaties. Greece, on the other hand, says its soldiers must fend off ships coming from Turkey’s west coast.
‘Your occupation of the islands is not binding on us. We will do what is necessary in due time. And as it is said, we can come suddenly, during the night,” Erdogan said on Saturday, without going into details. The president has used that expression several times in recent years to allude to actions by the Turkish army against Kurdish militants in Syria and Iraq. Those operations took place after some time.
Half a century of tensions
Tensions between the two NATO member states have risen several times over the past fifty years. In 1996, two uninhabited Greek islands in the Aegean Sea almost came to a military conflict. Two years ago, the tide of war was stirred again, when a dispute over drilling for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean took center stage.
Last year, the atmosphere seemed to clear up between the two countries. The neighboring countries started talking again and the Turkish president and Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis even had lunch together in March. Yet Erdogan said two months later that Mitsotakis “doesn’t exist for me.”