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Politics

First of 24 French-Made Rafale Fighter Jets Comes to Greece

ATHENS – Moving to bolster its arsenal in the face of constant Turkish provocations, Greece is getting the first of six new French-made Rafale fighter jets in a ceremony that was attended by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The order was placed a year earlier for 18 jets but in September, 2021 another six were added to boost the Greek Air Force, whose pilots are in frequent mock dog fights with Turkish jets violating Greek airspace.

It comes at a cost of 3.3 billion euros ($3.74 billion) with Greece also planning to buy three French Belharra frigates at a cost of 3-5 billion euros ($3.4-$5.7 billion) to put more warships in the seas where Turkey has employed its own between the countries.

A Rafale jets is sprayed with water as the Greek air force salutes six new jets at Tanagra military air base, about 82 kilometres (51miles) north of Athens, Greece, on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greece’s New Democracy government is also interested in buying five Gorwind Corvette ships from France as well as vessels from the United States defense contractor Lockheed.

“Greece’s position has changed in the eyes of its international partners. The country overcame the economic crisis, the immigration shock and stopped begging for capital. Instead, it again became an important partner for defense programs and contracts. Do not forget that when President (Emmanuel) Macron travels to Greece, he is accompanied by important businessmen,” Dorothee Schmid, head of the Middle East and Turkey Program at the French Institute of International Relations told Kathimerini.

The arrival of the first six Rafale fighter aircraft is a special moment in the strategic cooperation between Greece and France, Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said on Wednesday in an interview with Politico.

Rafale jets prepare to take off during a hand over ceremony in Tanagra military air base, about 82 kilometres (51miles) north of Athens, Greece, on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.  (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

“It is a special moment for our strategic cooperation with France, but also for our common vision for European defence. These next-generation superior aircraft multiply the deterrent power of the Air Force and strengthen our ability to meet any security challenge in our area,” Panagiotopoulos said.

In 2021, Greece’s annual defense budget reached 5.5 billion euros ($6.23 billion,) a dramatic 41 percent jump over 2020 when the lingering COVID-19 pandemic struck and drained state coffers otherwise.

Greece also signed a mutual defense agreement with France that irritated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose hopes of buying US-made F-35 fighter jets was dashed after he authorized purchase of a Russian-made S-400 missile defense system.

That could be used against Greece in a conflict and undermines the security of NATO, the defense alliance to which both countries belong but which has refused to intervene over Turkish provocations.

Greece has also agreed to send troops to the Sahel region in West Africa to assist France and the pact technically requires France to come to the defense of Greece in an attack, which Turkey mocked.

Greece also has signed a deal to train Greek pilots – among the best in NATO and the world already – for more training in israel and made a defense cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates and renewed a pact with the US.

A priest blesses the one of six Rafale jets during a hand over ceremony in Tanagra military air base, about 82 kilometres (51miles) north of Athens, Greece, on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Turkey and Greece mount competing air force patrols in the eastern Aegean Sea around Greek islands facing Turkey’s coastline. The tensions in the region prompted Athens to speed up its military upgrade program and strengthen defense ties with allies France and the United States.

Michael Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said Greece had also developed military cooperation with Egypt, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

“Athens’ efforts are paying off big. … These relationships provide Greece with much needed strategic depth,” Tanchum said.

The delivery of the French jets to Greece will be completed in January 2025, military officials said.

Greek officials say the Rafale jets have advanced electronics and weapons systems that will give its air force an advantage while confronting Turkey’s much larger military.

Turkey’s air force modernization drive suffered a setback in 2019 when the United States dropped Turkey from its F-35 program over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system.

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