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UAE to send F-16s to Crete for training with Greek military amid tensions with Turkey

The UAE is the latest country to show support for Greece amid a tense maritime dispute with Turkey
A fight plane of the type F-16 (L) of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) starts from the airbase in Nörvenich, western Germany, on August 20, 2020, during the first joint German-Israeli military air exercise "Blue Wings 2020". (Photo by SASCHA SCHUERMANN / AFP) (Photo by SASCHA SCHUERMANN/AFP via Getty Images)

The United Arab Emirates is sending four F-16 fighter aircraft for joint training with the Greek military on Crete, an Athens-based daily newspaper reported Friday.

The aircraft will partake in training exercise with Greece’s military over the Eastern Mediterranean amid heightened tensions with Turkey, which has deployed naval vessels to escort a hydrocarbon exploration ship to waters claimed by Greece.

The head of Greece’s Hellenic National Defense staff spoke with his Emirati counterpart, Lt. Gen. Hamad Mohammed Thani Al Rumaithi, on Thursday, Kathimerini reported.

Athens’ Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias also spoke with UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. A spokesperson for the UAE’s defense ministry was not immediately available for comment.

The deployment comes as Turkey also prepared to announce its largest-ever natural gas discovery in the Black Sea, and just a week after the UAE announced its formal recognition the state of Israel in a historic deal brokered by the US.

Abu Dhabi’s deployment to Athens’ Souda airbase is the latest sign of renewed regional opposition to Turkey’s ambitions in the Mediterranean.

Israel last week joined Cyprus, Egypt, and France in voicing support for Greece in the dispute. Turkey originally appeared to back off its exploration mission earlier this year after objections from the European Union and US, but then dispatched the vessel, the Oruc Reis, on August 10.

France last week sent Rafale fighter jets to Souda and a naval frigate to the eastern Mediterranean for exercises alongside Greece’s navy in an effort to deter Turkey’s activities.

French President Emmanuel Macron called on Ankara last week to halt its research in the area. Macron called for sanctions against Turkey last month for what he said were “violations” of the sovereignty of Cyprus and Greece.

A US Navy expeditionary sea base arrived in Souda Bay on August 18 as part of a pre-scheduled deployment. The US Navy said the deployment was not in response to regional tensions.

Last week a Greek Navy frigate, the Limnos, collided with one of Turkish naval vessels guiding the Oruc Reis.

A source at the Greek defense ministry told Reuters the incident was an accident, but Ankara called it a “provocation.” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not immediately confirm the incident but said “a high price” would be paid for any attack on Turkey’s exploration vessel.

Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos later congratulated the captain of the ship, saying he had “done his duty,” Ekathimerini reported.

The Oruc Reis’ is set to conclude its exploratory mission on Sunday, after laying some 1,700 meters of cable, Turkey’s energy minister has said.

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