The untold war: dogfights in the Aegean

19 July 2017
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While most attention over the past few years has been centred on Russia’s aggression and the critical situation in the Middle East, very few analysts notice a security emergency on the EU’s south-eastern border.

Only in 2016, the Greek General Staff recorded 1,671 national airspace violations by Turkish aircraft. The size of this breach can be easier understood if one considers that, during the same period, NATO jets scrambled to intercept Russian military planes 780 times, which is the highest recorded number since the Cold War.

The root of tensions in the Aegean is Ankara’s efforts to question the existing status quo in the area, both in the air and at sea. This antagonism has led the two countries three times (1976, 1987 and 1996) to the brink of war. According to international norms, the national airspace should correspond to territorial waters. However, Greece, since 1931, established its airspace to 10nm, while its territorial waters remain at 6nm. This international paradox was never challenged by Turkey before its invasion in Cyprus.

The reasoning behind the Turkish stance derives from its claims that the 4nm difference between Greek airspace and its territorial waters should be considered as international space over which Greece has no authority. The situation became more complex when, in 1995, the Turkish Parliament declared that any possible extension of the Greek territorial waters up to a limit of 12nm – and subsequently the national airspace – would automatically result in an act of war (casus belli).

Over the space of the past seventeen years, Turkish fighter jets – many of them equipped with combat arms – have been violating Greek airspace (see below), resulting in interception attempts by Greek forces and, in many cases, dangerous air engagements and dogfights, even over inhabited islands of the Eastern Aegean.

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