Oct 19 2018

Greece faces a dilemma as tensions rise in eastern Mediterranean

Greece is faced with a diplomatic and military dilemma after Turkey sent a seismic survey ship to the eastern Mediterranean to explore for natural gas.

The vessel started conducting research on Tuesday night before retreating after the Greek navy issued a radio warning. Turkey has since sent two frigates to the scene and a frigate of the Greek navy has remained there to monitor the ship’s movements.

Turkey appears to be stoking tensions by sending the Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa to explore in an area that includes a segment of Greece’s continental shelf, Vassilis Nedos wrote for Greek newspaper Kathimerini.

 “If the Barbaros re-enters Greek waters, Athens will be faced with a dilemma: either to issue another radio warning or to increase Greece’s naval presence in the area to match Turkey’s, a move that could escalate into a standoff,” Nedos said.

Greece is keen to avoid the second option as it could fuel tensions in a sensitive region that also contains foreign vessels including a U.S. Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and a Russian Navy vessel, he said.

Diplomatic and military tensions between Greece and Turkey have heightened this year over territorial rights and the capture and imprisonment of two Greek soldiers who allegedly strayed onto Turkish territory.

Earlier this week, Ankara issued a navigational telex saying that it planned to explore for gas in and around Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone. About 10 percent of the area comprises Greece’s continental shelf, according to Nedos.

Tensions intensified on Thursday after the Turkish media suggested there had been a confrontation between the Barbaros survey ship and a Greek frigate. Greek defense sources denied the claims.

The Turkish foreign ministry said this week that Turkey was exercising its sovereign right to explore for gas, saying that Greek claims of sovereignty were unrealistic and harmful to bilateral relations and regional stability.

“We recommend Greece to abstain from the acts that would cause an escalation in the region,” the ministry said.

U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil will also explore for natural gas in the area this autumn, a move that could further intensify tensions between Washington, Ankara and Athens.

Diplomatic ties between Turkey and the United States have also deteriorated significantly this year over U.S. support for Kurds in Syria, a subsequent Turkish invasion of the country’s north, and Turkey’s detention of pastor Andrew Brunson and other Americans on terrorism charges. Brunson’s release last week however is helping repair relations.