Greece armed forces chief threatens to “flatten” Aegean islets if Turkish troops land on them

The chief of the Hellenic Armed Forces’ senior staff, Evangelos Apostolakis, has issued a warning to Turkey amid sustained tensions over the two countries’ policies in the Aegean Sea.

“If they land on an islet, we will flatten it. And this is a red line that is adopted by the government as well,” Greek newspaper Kathimerini quoted the admiral as saying to journalists in Athens on Wednesday.

Turkey and Greece have spent the past year re-treading long-held disputes over ownership of disputed islets in the Aegean Sea, raising tensions between the countries throughout the year as the rhetoric was matched by increased military activity on and over the sea.

Fifteen Turkish jets reportedly violated Greek airspace across the length of the Aegean on Monday, committing a total of 107 infractions.

The disputed islets known as Kardak in Turkish and Imia in Greek have held centre stage in several of the countries’ tussles, with Turkish and Greek ships colliding in February this year during one incident, and the Turkish navy blocking the Greek defence minister from landing on the islets in another.

Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, referred to the islands in a speech to the parliament of Turkey on Wednesday, describing the legal status of the islands as undefined by the major treaties delineating the borders separating the countries.

"As such, there is always tension between Turkey and Greece,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Greek diplomatic sources quoted by Kathimerini disputed the minister's statement on the islets, calling their legal status "absolutely clear and assured."

Greece and Turkey share a history of tension over the islets, which brought the countries to the brink of war in 1996.

Disagreement over the rights to exploit the huge energy reserves detected around the island of Cyprus have added a further dimension to the disagreements holding Ankara and Athens apart.

Ankara is the only country to formally recognise the Turkish administration of Northern Cyprus, and firmly has firmly opposed attempts made by the Greek Cypriot administration on the southern part of the island to drill for gas in certain areas near the island.

Meanwhile, Turkish energy exploration vessels have begun research activities around the island.

The various disputes have brought forth a fair amount of sabre rattling from both sides, with Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar warning that no action could be taken around Cyprus without Turkey’s involvement, and Meral Akşener, the leader of Turkey’s nationalist Good Party, suggesting in November that Turkey could repeat its invasion of Cyprus “if need be.”

Apostolakis said on Wednesday that Greece would fight alone if it had to defend itself. “Our effort focuses on not having to reach that point. With the United States and the European Union we want to ensure that the Turks will not go that far,” the admiral added.

He went on to describe Greece as playing a balancing role in the region that suits the policy of the United States.

“Greece works as a bridge and plays a positive role. The Greece-Israel-Egypt axis offsets the pressure exerted by Turkey,” he said.

Greece, Israel and Egypt are among the states backing the Greek Cypriot administration’s claims to resources around Cyprus as demarcated in its Exclusive Economic Zone.