Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed on Thursday that he would “dare” to attack a Turkish vessel working on exploration for gas and oil in the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean by paying a “heavy price”, referring to the occurrence of one such incident.
Tensions escalated Monday between Turkey and Greece, with Ankara sending the research vessel “Oruj Reis”, accompanied by warships, to explore energy sources off the coast of the Greek island of Kastelorizo in the eastern Mediterranean.
Greece responded by sending its ships to the region to monitor the Turkish ship’s activities.
Erdogan hinted in a speech to members of the ruling Justice and Development Party that “Oruj Reis” was attacked during its exploration work and that Turkey responded appropriately.
Erdogan said, “We told them, ‘Don’t you dare to attack our ship Aruj Reis, and we said you will pay a heavy price if you attack it.’ And they received the first answer today”.
Erdogan did not provide any details about this attack, and quickly moved to another topic in his speech, which dealt with a wide range of issues.
In Athens, the Greek Defense Ministry denied attacking the Turkish ship, and a ministry official told France Press, “There was no accident”.
On Thursday, Erdogan held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Charles Michel in an attempt to defuse the tension.
Erdogan told Merkel, according to a statement by the Turkish presidency, “he prefers that conflicts in the Eastern Mediterranean be resolved within the framework of international law and on the basis of fairness and dialogue”.
Erdogan also stressed during his conversation with Michel that Turkey prefers a solution that “protects the rights of all countries and benefits everyone,” reiterating his “commitment to defend Turkey’s rights against attempts to ignore them”.
The discovery of gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean led to a race between the powers in the region to exploit them, but a great division between Greece and Turkey emerged on this issue.
And the European Union watched the escalation of tensions there with great concern, and urged Turkey to stop its exploration activities.
Turkish-French relations worsened, especially after a naval incident in June when Paris accused Turkish ships of being “extremely hostile” towards a French warship.
The French government fueled tension Thursday, after announcing that it would “temporarily” reinforce its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean.
Earlier, Erdogan announced Thursday that his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron had “colonial goals” in Lebanon, describing his recent visit to Beirut as a “showcase”, amid increasing tension between Ankara and Paris.
“What Macron and his team want is the return of the colonial regime in Lebanon,” he added in a speech in Ankara.
Erdogan continued, “As for us, we do not care to rush to take pictures or do a show in front of the cameras”.
Erdogan was talking about Macron’s visit to Beirut, amid huge media coverage last week, after the explosion that occurred on August 4 and destroyed a large part of the Lebanese capital, killing 171 people and wounding 6,500.
The Turkish president did not personally visit Beirut, but last week he sent his deputy and foreign minister to the Lebanese capital.
Lebanon was under French colonialism from 1920 until its independence in 1943. Before that, it was under Ottoman rule for four centuries.
Erdogan’s bitter statements come in an atmosphere of increasing tension between Turkey and France due to the conflict of interests in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean.
The Turkish exploration operations in this offshore region angered Greece and the European Union.
Paris, in support of Athens, condemned the “unilateral” actions of Ankara and announced on Thursday to strengthen its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean with the deployment of two fighters and two warplanes.
The Turkish pro-government newspapers expressed their displeasure with this news, accusing France of “crossing the borders” and “seeking war”.
Erdogan did not comment directly on the French decision, but he attacked without calling it “a country not bordering the eastern Mediterranean” and called on him “not to think that it is greater than it is”.