Turkish sailors stand still on the deck of naval ship Bodrum during the the Sea Wolf-2009 Military Exercise in the Aegean, off Turkey's coastal town of Marmaris May 27, 2009..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkey has launched the largest maritime drill in the country’s history, testing its war fighting capabilities in the Black Sea, Aegean Sea, and eastern Mediterranean simultaneously.
Dubbed “Mavi Vatan,” or "the Blue Homeland," it will last between February 27 to March 8 and will see the participation of 103 military vessels and thousands of soldiers conducting operations in 462,000 square meters in three seas surrounding the country.
According to Turkey’s Anadolu news agency, the naval vessels taking part will include destroyers, frigates, corvettes, assault boats, submarines, mine hunting vessels, patrol boats and as well as 20 fighter jets, military helicopters and drones.
While the drill was reported to have been planned six months in advance in line with NATO rules and regulations, it comes during heightened tensions in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean.
According to Dr. Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, Turkey expert at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, “one of the most important aspects of this drill is the utilization of Turkey's self-produced weapons. For instance the UAVs - 'Bayraktar' and 'Anka' - 'Milgem (National Warship) corvettes,' 'Atak' helicopter, 'Cirit' missile... all these can be considered as a signal for the US that Turkey is seeking to put an end to its dependency.”
Greek media have reported that the drill is taking place amid plans by Ankara to dispatch a second drilling ship to areas around the divided island of Cyprus later this week after Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the country would begin drilling for oil and gas near Cyprus in the near future.
“Let those who come to the region from far away, and their companies see that nothing can be done in that region without us. Nothing at all can be done in the Mediterranean without Turkey, we will not allow that,” he said.
Israel maintains broad cooperation with both Cyprus and Greece, participating in several military exercises of air, sea, and ground forces with the Mediterranean nations, especially following the downgrading of ties with Greece's adversary, Turkey.
“Despite the fact that the drills are also conducted in the Black Sea, the emphasis on the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Seas make it obvious that this is a clear message for Cyprus and Greece rather than Israel,” Yanarocak told The Jerusalem Post.
Turkey and Israel had been close allies in the defense industry, security cooperation, intelligence sharing and military training beginning in the 1960s and peaking in the 1990s with the 1994 Defense Cooperation Agreement and 1996 Military Training Cooperation Agreement.
The two countries also used to participate in annual joint navy and air force drills but following the downgrading of ties following the Mavi Marmara crisis, Ankara froze all defense industry projects and military cooperation with Jerusalem.
Jerusalem turned instead to Turkey’s adversaries Greece and the Greek Cypriots for military exercises of air, sea, and ground forces.
Israel and Cyprus and neighboring Greece are close allies and share a number of strategic interests, such as the ambitious project to build an undersea gas pipeline from Israel to Cyprus to Crete to mainland Greece.
In December, the leaders of the three countries held the fifth trilateral meeting in Beersheba to continue discussions on a joint gas pipeline in order to export gas to Europe as well as regional issues and the deepening of cooperation between the Mediterranean nations.
In June the defense ministers from the three countries held the second trilateral meeting to bolster security and expand cooperation on cybersecurity, joint military drills and search and rescue operations in the eastern Mediterranean.
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