NICOSIA, Cyprus — Greece has warned its NATO allies of the possibility of a “heated incident” over the Aegean Sea after airspace violations and hostile encounters with Turkish warplanes.
At stake are Turkey’s hopes for membership in the European Union and the stability of the sensitive eastern Mediterranean area.
Some diplomats believe the situation is exacerbated by an apparent feud between Turkey’s civilian and military authorities.
“It is clear we are facing increased provocation and aggression from Turkey in the Aegean,” said Greek Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou.
Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, chief of the Turkish general staff, said that “Turkish jets will fly wherever they want over the Aegean Sea.” Greece and Turkey, who are members of NATO, disagree on the width of their territorial waters in the sea sprinkled with Greek islands.
In a typical report one day last week, Greece announced 11 infringements of the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) and three airspace violations leading to eight dogfightlike encounters.
At the same time, however, Athens and Ankara announced a series of minor, bilateral “confidence building” measures. They include an exchange of senior staff officers in all the three branches of the armed forces, an exchange of students at military academies, and cooperation between military hospitals.
Greek commentators across the political spectrum have intensified attacks on Turkey despite efforts by Foreign Minister George Papandreou to calm the situation. “Ankara blows hot and cold,” headlined the Athens daily Kathimerini.
According to diplomats, one of the main stumbling blocks is the lack of understanding and the growing mistrust between the two centuries-old enemies.
The other is persistent reports of the quarrel pitting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party against senior Turkish military leaders grouped in the National Security Council.
Many Greek officials feel that “there are two Turkeys” — one pro-European, moderate and flexible that is led by Mr. Erdogan, and the other typically Eastern, intransigent and aggressive, represented by Gen. Ozkok.
The Turkish media continue to speculate on the degree of feuding between their military and civilian leaders. According to some reports, “anger is growing among younger officers” at the appointment of notorious pro-Islamic politicians to key administrative posts.
The Turkish military establishment is sensitive about obstacles in the path of Turkey’s EU membership. Particular attention was given to the statement in the fall by former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing that admitting Turkey would be “the end of the European Union.”
He described Turkey as a Muslim country “with a different culture, a different approach and a different way of life.” Mr. Giscard now leads Europe’s constitutional convention drafting the constitution of the European Union.