Confrontations between Turkish and Greek military warplanes escalated sharply in 2014, Metin Gurcan reports for Al-Monitor citing anonymous Turkish military officials.
In the first month of 2014 alone, Turkish jets apparently violated Greek airspace 1,017 times. This was twice the number of total airspace violations between the two countries for the first half of 2013. Both are members of NATO.
These incidents have become so routine, Gurcan notes, that “reports of mock dogfights between Greek and Turkish warplanes over the Aegean Sea are now listed in the ‘Daily Activities‘ section of the official website of Turkey’s chief of general staff.”
The incidents almost entirely take place over the Aegean Sea, the island-filled stretch of water separating Turkey and Greece. The countries’ exact maritime boundaries are still a matter of disagreement.
“The question of sovereignty over the Aegean in simplest terms is the difference between Greek territorial waters of six nautical miles and the 10-nautical-mile airspace Greece claims,” Gurcan writes. “The conflict arises when Turkey recognises the Greek national airspace over the Aegean as six miles and flies its planes within the 10-mile airspace claimed by Greece.”
These disputes over the Aegean have simmered and have hampered attempts for the two nations to fully normalize ties. Turkey still considers what it believes to be any Greek attempt to unilaterally expand its maritime claims in the Aegean as a cause for war, despite both countries being in NATO.
The tensions between Turkey and Greece mirror a general increase in hostilities throughout the eastern Mediterranean.
Cyprus has vowed to stay out of peace talks over the island’s final status after Turkey sent a research ship to look for natural gas off of the north coast of the island. Cyprus is split between a Greek-backed south and a Turkish Cypriot North. Natural gas was discovered off of its coasts in late 2011.
Turkey maintains that any natural gas found off of the shores of Cyprus should be shared equally with both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. But a flagging Cyprus peace process, conflicting maritime claims in the Aegean, and controversy over Cypriot gas could all raise the temperature between Greece and Turkey in the coming year.