ANKARA: A provocative live-fire drill by the Turkish navy off the coast of Cyprus was branded illegal on Saturday, as reports emerged that the US is drawing up plans to withdraw from the strategic Incirlik air force base.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen to Incirlik,” Ron Johnson, the US senator who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee for Europe, told the Washington Examiner. “We hope for the best, but we have to plan for the worst.”
US withdrawal would be a blow to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suggesting that the US no longer trusts him. “I think, from a defensive posture, we have to look at the reality of the situation that the path Erdogan is on is not good,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile Turkey is conducting naval gunnery exercises from Saturday until Monday off the coast at Sadrazamkoy in northern Cyprus, a part of the island controlled by Ankara but unrecognized by the rest of the world.
The Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Cyprus, which is attached to the Defense Ministry, said the drill was illegal because it “violates the Republic of Cyprus’s sovereignty and sovereign rights.”
Cyprus also said it would conduct its own joint training maneuvers with US forces, from Saturday until Sept. 20. “Two combatant craft medium transport vessels of the US special navy forces are in Cyprus to participate in joint military drills,” the National Guard said.
The Turkish drills are “reminding Washington that Turkey’s grievances are not limited to the Aegean but also extend into the eastern Mediterranean,” Gabriel Mitchell, director of external relations and policy fellow at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, told Arab News.
Tension has soared in the Eastern Mediterranean since Turkey sent an oil and gas exploration vessel into Greek territorial waters last month, accompanied by an armed naval escort. Greece responded by shadowing the Turkish flotilla with its own warships, and staging naval exercises with several EU allies and the UAE.
Turkey threatens Europe’s eastern border and undermines regional security, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Saturday as he unveiled new arms purchases and an overhaul of Greece’s military.
Athens will acquire 18 French-made Rafale warplanes, four multi-purpose frigates and four navy helicopters, new anti-tank weapons, navy torpedoes and air force missiles. It will also recruit 15,000 new troops and pour resources into the national arms industry and cyber attack defense, Mitsotakis said.
“The time has come to reinforce the armed forces,” he said. “These initiatives constitute a robust program that will become a national shield.”