Greek and Turkish soldiers in the Aegean have their fingers on the trigger, proving that the state of Greek-Turkish relations is exceptionally tense and dangerous, as a military clash can arise and take its own course.
The incident this week over the tiny island of Ro and the tracer ammunition fired towards the Turkish Coast Guard helicopter demonstrated that a spark can bring disaster.
Turkey’s continual violations of Greek airspace by F-16s, its extremely low altitude flights over Greek islands, Turkish Coast Guard ships that harass or attempt to ram Greek ships, moves to block the rescue of migrants, moves in the eastern Mediterranean, and continual, inflammatory remarks by Turkish officials, create an explosive regional cocktail.
As a report in Ta Nea reveals today, sources say that the management of a “hot” military incident in the Aegean has been exhaustively discussed at meetings in the prime minister’s office.
The PM’s call for vigilance to deter de facto situations was clear, as was the message sent to Ankara, that Athens will not tolerate a new Imia.
After that, the Greek side must daily balance between calm management and a decisive stance. This is all the more true after the dissemination of information that the Turks have discussed (at the last meeting of their powerful National Security Council) the provocation of an incident that could create a new, de facto situation in the Aegean.
What happened on Ro island?
Regarding the incident over the island of Ro, there are lingering questions as to what happened and how it was managed. There was no official statement, as Christos Tsigouris reported in Ta Nea, and the incident became known in the early morning hours through internet posts. Some of the posts said there was an overflight over the island.
Unofficially, the Greek General Staff confirmed that Greek soldiers reacted with tracer ammo, but that there was no violation of Greek airspace by the Turkish helicopter.
After the incident, Defence Minister Panos Kammenos spoke to the head of the guard on Ro and congratulated the contingent on their immediate reaction and their enforcement of the rules of engagement.
Later, government sources in Athens sought to play down the incident, asserting that it was not deemed to be of major significance.
What is noteworthy is that, based on reports from the area, the Turkish helicopter, obviously with its lights on at night, was visible from the nearby island of Kastellorizo, but not from Ro, which led the Greek guard to fire tracer shots to avert the overflight of a helicopter they could not see, but which they could hear was in flight.
It remains unclear whether assistance was requested from the Greek Air Force, and from the National Centre for Air Operations in particular, so as to ascertain what was flying, at what altitude, and where.
It was the nearby sound of the helicopter, sources say, which raised alarm bells in the Greek guard on Ro, which communicated with the head of the force on nearby Kastellorizo, who in turn activated the rules of engagement, allowing the Ro guard to fire in the opposite direction and avert a Turkish overflight over them.
Kammenos was from the first moment s apprised of the situation and he briefed the prime minister, who has an open line with the defence ministry and is briefed on details in nearly real time. The PM can thus control the degree of escalation of the Greek reaction.
Corroborated reports, however, indicate that the PM was alerted after shots were fired.