Even as the US Sixth Fleet has entered Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone for joint military exercises with Israel (population evacuation), Ankara has decided to further heighten tensions in the Aegean Sea.

Straight on the heels of tying up with a Navtex (navigational telex) the sea region around the tiny Greek island of Kastellorizo, for search-and-rescue exercises, Ankara has now announced with a new Navtex, that it will be carrying out live fire, search-and-rescue exercises in the sea region between the Greek islands of Skyros, Psara, and Evia, throughout the months of March and April.

The live fire exercises in such a broad area and over such a protracted period increase the possibilities of an “accidental” conflagration between Greece and Turkey, about which US Ambassador to Athens Geoffrey Pyatt has warned.

The periods involved are 7,8, 25-27, 28, and 29 March (which includes the 25 March Greek Independence day holiday), and 2,3,4,5, 6-10, 24-26, and 30 April (which includes Greek Orthodox Good Friday through two days after Easter, which falls on 8 April.

The national and religious holidays are significant because, based on a May, 1988 bilateral accord signed by then foreign ministers Karolos Papoulias and Mesut Yilmaz, the two countries agreed not to conduct military manoeuvres on each other’s national and religious holidays.

The Turkish maneouvres also violate other provisions of the 1988 confidence building measures, such as an agreement not to  isolate an area, as is happening with Kastelorizo, and not to conduct exercises for protracted periods.