Four F-16 fighter jets from the United Arab Emirates have landed on the Greek island of Crete to take part in joint drills with the Mediterranean country as tensions rise with neighboring Turkey. The jets will be deployed to Souda Air Base on Crete along with support staff, engineers and ground personnel, and will carry out joint training with the Greek Armed Forces over the Eastern Mediterranean.
According to Greek media, the drills come after the Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff (GEETHA), Konstantinos Floros, discussed developments in the region with UAE’s Lt.-Gen. Hamad Mohammed Thani Al Rumaithi just last week.
Greek Defense Minister Nikos Dendias has also held talks with Foreign Minister of the UAE Abdullah bin Zayed.Both the UAE and Greece are bitter rivals of Turkey which on Saturday began conducting military drills with F-16s and warships in the Aegean Sea that separates the two countries with F-16 jets and warships.
The drills by Turkey and Greece come as they are facing off in the eastern Mediterranean Sea over gas and oil exploration, despite a call from the European Union for Ankara to stop its activities in the contested waters claimed by both countries.The two countries have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s, including over drilling exploration rights in the Aegean.
The Greek Reporter news site, linked the drill to the deepening ties between the UAE and Israel, one of Greece’s main allies in the region.
Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi announced that they would normalize relations on August 13, a move that angered Ankara.
The close ties between Israel and Greece are based on a number of shared strategic and economic interests. According to Greek Reporter, the drills between Greece and the UAE “send an unmistakable signal to anyone who might think of challenging Greece that the nation is far from alone in defending its borders.”
Israel maintains broad cooperation with Greece and has participated in several military exercises of air, sea and ground forces with the Mediterranean country, especially following the downgrading of ties with Turkey.
“The Greeks are a major and natural strategic partner,” a senior international cooperation officer told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview, adding that “someone had to fill the empty spot when we stopped doing drills with the Turks.”
As tensions continue to escalate between Greece and Turkey, Athens has been working to strengthen its maritime capabilities. In May Israel’s Defense Ministry signed an agreement with the Hellenic Ministry of National Defense to lease several IAI Heron UAVs to Greece for border defense.
Greek ONEX Neorion Shipyards and Israel Shipyards have also signed a cooperation agreement for the construction of next-generation corvette ships for the Greek Navy.
The agreement, which was signed during the recent visit by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Israel on June 16, will see up to six Themistocles-class corvettes be built based on plans by Israel Shipyards based in Haifa.
The Themistocles design is reported to be “basically the same design” as Israel’s Sa’ar 72 mini-corvettes, but with modifications according to the needs of the Hellenic Navy.