Turkey, Greece clash over the Aegean Sea: here’s what we know so far

Turkish Air Force F-16 formation
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NATO officials have called for a peaceful resolution to the recent conflict between Greece and Turkey, while both countries continue to accuse the other of aircraft violations breaching international law. 

Greece accused the Turkish jets of violating its airspace, which Turkey claimed was a training exercise conducted as a part of a NATO mission and alleged that Greece attempted to disrupt it.  

“The Mediterranean (Sea) is of vital importance for NATO, and we urge Greece and Türkiye to solve any differences in the Aegean (Sea) by diplomatic means and in a spirit of allied solidarity,” an unnamed NATO official said according to Anadolu Agency, a Turkish news service. 

The conflict between the two countries ensued on December 19, 2022 over the Aegean Sea, with both sides accusing each other of violating international law.  

This comes amidst an escalation of tensions between the two NATO members, including comments made by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that a new Turkish missile “will hit Athens”, initiating a heated diplomatic exchange between the two countries. 

Turkish claims 

According to the Turkish Ministry of National Defense, Greek fighter jets “harassed” Turkish aircraft that were performing a training mission together with other NATO aircraft.  

A statement published on December 19 by the Turkish MoD, explains that several Hellenic Air Force fighter jets were scrambled and performed a radar lock on Turkish aircraft that were flying in international airspace. 

According to the statement, a formation of 14 Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter jets, one Boeing 737 airborne early warning and control aircraft, one Boeing KC-135 tanker and one search and rescue aircraft, likely a CASA/IPTN CN-235, were performing a flight along with Boeing E-3 AWACS aircraft belonging an unnamed NATO country. 

The flight was being conducted as a part of a NATO NEXUS ACE mission and the flightpath was shared with other NATO countries, the statement explained.  

“While Package Arm continued its flight in the international airspace over the Aegean (sea – AeroTime), F-16s scrambled from 5 different air bases belonging to Greece harassed our planes by placing radar locks,” the statement continued. 

By doing so, the Turkish MoD said that the Greek aircraft was attempting to “prevent the NATO mission”. In response, Turkey scrambled its own F-16s from Dalaman and Akhisar air bases. 

The Greek version 

Official Greek institutions, such as the country’s Ministry of National Defence, the Hellenic Air Force or Hellenic National Defense General Staff (HNDGS) have not commented on the incident. 

However, the Greek press published several versions of the incident, which differed significantly from the Turkish account. 

According to an article by CNN Greece, Turkey performed a “provocation” and an “unprecedented barrage of violations” by flying 32 F-16 fighter jets that entered Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) southeast of Rhodes around 15:00 EET (1:00 PM GMT) on December 19, 2022. 

The jets violated Greek national airspace 43 times, while another 59 violations were performed by Turkish unmanned aircraft, the article claimed.  

The Hellenic Air Force scrambled around 40 F-16 and Mirage 2000 fighter jets in response to Turkey’s alleged violations, and “fierce aerial battles” followed, with the jets of the opposing countries attempting to conduct a missile lock on each other. 

CNN Greece referred to “sources close to the matter” in its account and did not provide comment from officials.  

Various other Greek news websites, such as Kathimerini.gr and Capital.gr, published articles making similar claims, also referring to sources within the government. 

The website of HNDGS, which has published a list of alleged Greek airspace violations, added an entry for December 19, 2022, claiming that 20 violations occurred in the region of the Aegean Sea. 

Heated atmosphere 

This is not the first time Greece and Turkey have exchanged claims relating to airspace violations. 

Despite both countries being NATO members, they often engage in political disputes, and threatening military repercussions. 

Some of the disputes stem from Greece laying claim to an extended 10-mile national airspace around some of its borders, a move which does not comply with international practice and predates ICAO statutes. The claim is not recognized by Turkey. 

It is unclear if the violations claimed by Greece occurred in the disputed airspace. 

Turkey voiced similar claims of “harassment” in August 2022, saying that Greek aircraft tried to disrupt a NATO exercise. 

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