The U.S. aircraft carrier Eisenhower will enter the Mediterranean in the next two days through the Suez Canal as it heads to conduct joint military exercises with the Greek air force at the Aegean island of Crete, Rudaw reported on Sunday.
Citing Greek media reports, Rudaw said that the Eisenhower will take part with 12 U.S. warships and the exercise will also involve four pairs of Greek F-16s taking from the Suda Air Base in Crete and four F-18 fighter jets to take off from the aircraft carrier.
The joint exercises are expected to last around 10 days, although the exact date they will begin is not clear, Rudaw reported.
Rudaw said the exercise could be read as an indication of Washington’s growing interest in the eastern Mediterranean, as tensions have risen there recently between Turkey and Greece over disputed maritime boundaries and competing claims over hydrocarbon drilling rights.
Meanwhile, heightened tensions between Greece and Turkey around Kastellorizo, a small Greek island located just 2 km off Turkey’s southern coast near the resort town of Kaş, appear to be de-escalating, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported on Sunday, with Turkish warships returning to their bases.
There was confusion on Saturday when the Turkish embassy in Washington tweeted that research vessel Oruç Reis had began exploring for oil and gas off Kastellorizo.
The embassy later deleted the tweet, replacing it with one saying that the ship had announced its seismic survey on July 21. Oruç Reis remains anchored near the southern Turkish city of Antalya, Kathimerini said.
NAVTEX 977/20, the navigational warning issued by Turkey about its search for oil and gas to the south and east of Kastellorizo, an area part of which Greece regards as within its continental shelf, is still in force – but it expires on August 2.
The German newspaper Bild reported earlier this week that German Chancellor Angela Merkel prevented a possible military confrontation between Turkey and Greece on Tuesday.
The naval and air forces from both countries were on standby after Ankara’s decision to send a research vessel escorted by naval ships to Kastellorizo to conduct oil and gas exploration.
As the tensions were rising, Merkel intervened by holding phone calls with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and the Turkish fleet turned and headed in another direction, Bild said.
Athens accused Turkey on Tuesday of seeking to encroach on Greece’s continental shelf. Greece and Cyprus say that islands have their own continental shelves granting them extensive exploration rights, a claim Turkey contests.
The U.S. State Department urged Ankara on Tuesday to cease drilling exploration plans off the Greek islands in the eastern Mediterranean and avoid raising tensions in the region.