Merkel prevented possible military conflict between Greece and Turkey

German Chancellor Angela Merkel prevented a possible military confrontation between Turkey and Greece on Tuesday evening, German newspaper Bild reported.

The naval and air forces from both countries were on standby after Ankara’s decision to send a research vessel to the Greek island of Kastellorizo to conduct oil and gas exploration, Bild said on Wednesday.

The Greek navy declared a state of alarm at noon on Tuesday, and fighter jets were also on ready to intervene as a total of 18 Turkish ships were en-route to the tiny island located just 2 km off the coast of the southern Turkish resort town of Kaş and framed by two Turkish-owned peninsulas that jut out into the sea.

As the tensions were rising, Merkel intervened by holding phone calls with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and the Turkish fleet turned and headed in another direction, Bild said.

German Spokeswoman Ulrike Demer said on Tuesday that Merkel and Erdoğan had discussed “various issues, especially the situation in Libya and the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean, as well as various bilateral issues”.

Demer added: “Our position on the principle of drilling, on the issue of maritime borders and the exploitation of natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean, is well known. There is also a decision on EU sanctions,” she said.

Tensions have been rising recently between Turkey and Greece over their competing claims to hydrocarbon exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Greek City Times reported that Greek and Turkish fighter jets had flown over Kastellorizo ​​for more than two and a half hours on Tuesday, making sonic booms and causing frightened tourists to flee from beaches.

Some tourists were leaving the island early and others were cancelling their planned trips in August over the tensions, the Greek City Times said.

Ankara says Greece is using the island as an excuse to expand its continental shelf in the region and violating Turkey’s rights, state-run Anadolu news agency said on Wednesday.

Hakan Karan, a professor at Ankara University’s Faculty of Law, told Anadolu that the island’s close proximity to Turkey rendered Greece’s claims invalid.

"An island with less than 12 square kilometres area of surface, located two kilometres to Turkey and 580 kilometres away from Greece cannot be granted continental shelf or EEZ [exclusive economic zone]," he said.