Turkey shows off growing naval power in its largest military exercise

Turkey’s military conducted the second day of Blue Homeland 2019, the largest military exercise in the country’s history, carrying out drills in the Black Sea, Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, Reuters reported

The nine-day exercise began on Wednesday with the participation of 103 navy ships and aims to boost the efficiency of the systems of command and control

On board the frigate TCG Barbaros, deployed in the Aegean Sea north of the Gallipoli peninsula, gunners fired live ammunition at mock targets, while helicopters lowered soldiers onto a ship’s deck and other personnel deployed a remotely operated underwater vehicle, Reuters said. 

Turkey’s show of force came amid rising regional tensions over territorial and energy exploration rights disputes in the eastern Mediterranean, the Voice of America said. 

"Turkey is a regional power, and this naval exercise is to show the world that Turkey is a player," said international relations professor Hüseyin Bağcı of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University. Bağcı said other countries should be aware the importance of working together with Turkey and the risks of being against it.

"It is showing the flag, the showing of the muscles. We are here in the Mediterranean; we have our interests in Cyprus, we have our interests in gas exploration and economic interests,” the VOA quoted Bağcı as saying

Turkey has many outstanding disputes with Greece over maritime boundaries in the Aegean, while disagreements over Cyprus gas have soured tensions in the region since the second half of 2018, with Ankara and Nicosia at odds over Turkish Cypriots’ share in gas revenues and Turkey’s territorial claims that overlap with Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Cyprus has been split between a Greek Cypriot administration in the south, recognised internationally as the government of the whole island, and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot government in the north recognised only by Turkey.

U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil, together with partner Qatar Petroleum (QP), made the largest discovery so far since it began drilling operations off Cyprus in 2011 and found a reservoir that holds an estimated 5 trillion to 8 trillion cubic feet of gas, Reuters reported on Thursday. 

“Turkey has resumed expanding its naval power after a decade, so we are talking about important material capabilities and the expansion of the Turkish navy should threaten the Greeks,” the VOA quoted international relations professor Serhat Güvenç of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University as saying.

According to Güvenç, Turkey’s growing military capabilities are forcing Athens to forge new alliances with the United States and Russia as Greeks lacks financial resources. 

"Turkey’s policy toward its neighbours is threatening and aggressive, and this is and will have repercussions,” political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Athens University told the VOA. 

“We should not forget that Greece is expected to sign in the [coming] months, a mini security arrangement with the United States, to which Egypt, Israel and Cyprus could potentially join as non-NATO countries, and this is clearly aimed at Turkey,” he said.