Greece scrambled fighter jets to intercept six Turkish military aircraft that violated Greek airspace over 20 times on Wednesday, reported the local Kathimerini paper Thursday. The violations of the European Union member’s airspace, which included two aircraft that were armed, comes just days after Athens agreed to a $96 billion bailout from its EU creditors in exchange for deep public sector cuts, which include trimming Greece's bloated military budget.
The jets entered Greece's northeastern, central and southeastern regions over the Aegean Sea, the area of water that divides the two countries’ mainlands. While it's not yet known if the incursion into Greek airspace was accidental, few will see it as a military navigational error given the centuries of hostility between the two nations. What is more likely is that Turkish military wanted to test the reaction time of Greece's air force, usually an indicator of military preparedness -- a tactic deployed often by the Russian air force.
Should the incident spill over into a diplomatic spat, it will be of huge concern to NATO, which values both Turkish and Greek membership in the alliance because of their strategic locations on the fringes of Europe. Similarly, leaders of the alliance, now more than ever, are trying to avoid internal disputes as it seeks to show Russia a united front amid ongoing conflict in Crimea and the east Ukraine war.
During its economic fall, Athens has built stronger ties with Moscow as it looked to take advantage of Russian natural gas supplies via a pipeline that would be built between the two countries.
While relations between Turkey and Greece have been quiet in recent years, there is little love lost between Athens and Ankara. After going to war against each other in 1919, the Cypriot crisis that spanned the 1950s to the mid-1970s has left both with a mutual distrust of each other. Now both countries are in a disagreement over potential energy reserves off the coast of Cyprus, a country split between Turkish and Greek-speaking residents.