- Eastern Mediterranean saw show of military strength
By Chaitali Bag
Larnaca, Cyprus. 14 March 2021. It is not the first time Mediterranean Sea is witness to Israel led naval exercises on it’s waters but it is definitely the first time Cyprus was a participant in Israel-US- Greece trilateral exercise and not the only first timer-France was the other nation to be in the exercise too for the first time. So the trinational Noble Dina in 2021 became multinational and took place in a sea maritime west of Cyprus recently.
Both maritime and air assets of the Republic of Cyprus, Greece, France, USA and Israel, as the host country, participated in the exercise. NOBLE DINA (Israel) is a US-Israeli-Greek tri-lateral exercise designed to train participants in Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Search and Rescue (SAR), Air Defense (AS), counter-piracy, and antiterrorism/force protection (ATFP).
Israeli Navy led the large-scale exercise in which it implemented capabilities in underwater warfare, search and rescue, convoy escort and surface combat. It sent a submarine and the INS Romach, a Sa’ar 4.5-class missile boat housing anti-submarine systems.
Cyprus participated in all phases of the exercise with the offshore ship “IOANNIDIS” of the Naval Command of National Guard. In addition, a helicopter AW-139 of the Aviation Command of National Guard, as well as the Search and Rescue Coordination Center (JRCC Larnaca), took part during the Search-Rescue phase.
Specifically, various training activities were conducted in the marine environment, which included Advanced Manoeuvres and Formations, Escorts, Tactical Game, Anti-submarine Warfare and Aeronautical Cooperation Operations, as well as a Search and Rescue exercise, coordinated by the JRCC. The offshore ship “IOANNIDIS” performed the duties of Regular Coordinator on Stage.
The Hellenic Navy participated with the frigate HS «ADRIAS», the fast attack craft HS «GRIGOROPOULOS», the submarine HS «PIPINOS», a helicopter and a P3-B Navy aircraft.
The French Navy ship Auvergne (D654) which is an Aquitaine-class frigate developed for the FREMM multipurpose frigate program was also a part of the exercise.
The Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG-61) joined forces with the Israeli Sa’ar 4.5 ships in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea to conduct joint maritime security patrols during the exercise.
Israeli Rear Admiral Eyal Harel, head of Naval Operations, stated on Friday that “These drills are of utmost importance to strengthen the Israeli Navy’s relations with foreign navies of shared interests.” The participation of the units and personnel in the exercise “NOBLE DINA-2021” is considered to be particularly successful, as it provided them with a substantial and practical possibility of operational joint training in various areas of common interest, in the framework of cooperation between neighbouring and friendly countries.
In an official statement Lt. Cmdr. Amichai Rachamim, head of exercises for the Israeli Navy, said,“it is focused not only on surface exercises but also multi-threat exercise of air and underwater and surface threats. The main task is to combine and cooperate multinationally against the threats and practice our forces and ships in answering these threats and building the cooperation against these threats.”
It may be recalled that Nobel Dina 2020 was cancelled because of COVID-19 pandemic hitting the world. Eastern Mediterranean are the new troubled waters with Turkey being the common adversary, the exercise this year is a show of combined strength . Cyprus-Turkey maritime dispute is no secret . The Republic of Cyprus (Cyprus) and Turkey have been engaged in a dispute over the extent of their exclusive economic zones (EEZ), sparked by oil and gas exploration in the area. Turkey objects to Cypriot drilling in waters that Cyprus has asserted a claim to under international maritime law. The present maritime zones dispute touches on the perennial Cyprus and Aegean disputes. Turkey is the only member state of the United Nations that does not recognise Cyprus, and is one of the few not signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which Cyprus has signed and ratified.
Turkey claims a portion of Cyprus’s EEZ based on Turkey’s definition that no islands, including Cyprus, can have a full 200 nautical mile EEZ authorized to coastal states and should only be entitled to their 12 nautical mile territorial seas. Turkey’s definition creates a dispute over the rights to waters south of Cyprus containing an offshore gas field. This definition is not shared by most other states. Furthermore, the internationally unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which was created as result of the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus, also claims portions of Cypriot EEZ. Cyprus and other countries including Israel, France, Russia and Greece view these claims on Cyprus’s land and sea as illegal under international law[a] and urge Turkey to refrain from illegal drilling for gas in the island’s EEZ. The European Union has threatened Turkey with economic and political sanctions for violating the Cypriot EEZ.
Meanwhile Greece and Turkey have a dispute over sovereignty and related rights in the region of the Aegean Sea. This set of conflicts has strongly affected Greek-Turkish relations since the 1970s, and has twice led to crises coming close to the outbreak of military hostilities, in 1987 and in early 1996. The issues in the Aegean are the delimitation of territorial waters, national airspace, exclusive economic zones and use of the continental shelf. One aspect of the dispute is the differing interpretations of the maritime law: Turkey has not signed up to the Convention on the Continental Shelf nor the superseding United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, both of which Greece has signed up to; as such, Turkey doesn’t recognize a legal continental shelf and EEZ around the Greek islands.
Israel and Turkey too have a bone of contention – the December 2019 deal between Libya and Turkey that declared Turkey’s sea borders to stretch from Anatolia all the way to the shores of Derna and Tobruk. Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz announced Israel’s opposition to the maritime border accord between Ankara and Tripoli, and confirmed that the deal was “illegal” according to the Israeli official position, while at the same time noting that Israel does not want a conflict with Turkey. Turkish navy had driven out an Israeli oceanographic research vessel that had been operating with the consent of the Cypriot government in Cypriot waters. This act, in the context of the deal with the GNA, led to Israeli fears that Turkey aimed to “create a sea border the width of the entire Mediterranean” and cut off Israeli access international waters via the Mediterranean sea, the channel of 99% of Israeli exports.
And the fourth participant France’s relationship with Turkey is definitely no secret. Just sticking to maritime disputes, in the eastern Mediterranean, Paris’ support for Athens over energy exploration also conflicts with Ankara. France has backed Greece and Cyprus in a tense altercation with Ankara over hydrocarbon resources and territorial rights in the eastern Mediterranean. The country has also held joint military exercises with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, covering the area of the Greek-Turkish conflict, namely the islands of Kastellorizo.
France accused Turkey that Turkish ships harassed a French warship which tried to check a Turkish vessel, which was suspected of smuggling arms to Libya, and that the Turkish navy is using their NATO call signals while accompanying Turkish vessels suspected of breaking the UN arms embargo in Libya. According to French officials, when the French ship tried to check the vessel, the Turkish vessel switched off its tracking system, masked its ID number and refused to say where it was going while the Turkish frigates flashed their radar lights three times against the French warship, suggesting a missile strike was imminent. On the other hand, Turkish officials, denied that the warship was harassed and claimed that the French warship did not establish communications with the Turkish vessel during the incident.
The United States and one of its long time NATO allies, Turkey are at probably the lowest ebb of relationship and Turkey’s decision to buy the S-400 Air Defence System from Russia is the major reason. Also Turkish naval interventions in the Eastern Mediterranean are being considered destabilizing by US. Joe Biden still hasn’t called Erdogan after taking over as the leader of the world, which is not a positive sign. US’ relationship with France, Greece, Cyprus and Israel have been good.
So the Noble Dina 2021 definitely created not only a ripple but also a common voice against Turkey. It definitely projected a joint front both militarily and politically and the mantra was cooperation over conflict.