Turkey pushes limits

Athens protested strongly to Ankara yesterday for a series of violations of Greek airspace by Turkish warplanes, which included two F-4 fighters flying low over Rhodes’s civil airport on Tuesday. The two flew slowly over the coastline, crossing over one end of the airport at Paradeisi, at an altitude of 150-200 meters. According to Defense Ministry figures, Turkish infringements of the Athens Flight Information Region have increased by 555 percent in the first three months of 2002 from the same period last year (or 710 instances as opposed to 128 in 2001). During the same period, violations of Greek airspace increased by 426 percent (or 759 from 178). Greece’s chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Giorgos Antonakopoulos, who was in Brussels yesterday, notified NATO headquarters of the latest Turkish violation. Air Force Staff sources said that the Rhodes flyover was a «clear provocation» that was aimed mostly at provoking reactions on the Greek political scene rather than posing a military challenge. What concerned the air force more was the sharp increase in the number of airspace violations and FIR infringements. They believe that if they continue at this rate this year will mark a record, surpassing the 1,689 FIR infringements of 1996 and the 1,060 airspace violations of 1998. In Athens, the Turkish ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry while Greece’s ambassador in Ankara visited the Turkish Foreign Ministry to protest the violations. Deputy Press Minister Telemachos Hytiris said, «The government is taking everything into consideration but there is no reason for alarm.» He noted that on Wednesday Athens had rejected a claim that Greek planes violated Turkish airspace, saying «The Greek side replied that the evidence produced by the Turkish authorities is non-existent and the Greek planes are acting absolutely legally.» Turkey recognizes Greek airspace as stretching six miles around the Greek islands, while Athens says it is 10 miles. Yesterday, Turkish warplanes carried out 25 violations and infringements in the central and northeastern Aegean. Meanwhile, Turkey’s Sea Wolf air and sea exercise got underway in international waters in the central and northern Aegean yesterday. Its scenario foresees troops landing on Greek islands and, as such, is more disturbing than the small-scale Ephesus exercise that was called off by Ankara earlier this week in an ostensible good will gesture to Greece.