ATHENS — The United Arab Emirates is sending warplanes to the southern Greek island of Crete for joint training with Greece's air force, officials in Athens said Friday as military tensions continued to simmer between Greece and neighboring Turkey over offshore energy rights.
The officials said between two and four UAE fighters were expected to reach Souda Naval Base during the weekend and would hold joint training and exercises with the Hellenic Air Force next week. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the matter with journalists.
The move follows talks between senior Greek and UAE military and government officials.
The United Arab Emirates is a bitter rival of Turkey — Greece's historic regional rival — in a broader struggle over political Islam, while Dubai and Ankara back rival factions in the fighting in Libya. Turkey is also angry about the UAE's decision to normalize relations with Israel.
Greece is keen for gestures of international support in its ongoing face-off with Turkey, its much larger and more heavily armed nominal NATO ally. Turkey has sent a warship-escorted research vessel to prospect for oil and gas in eastern Mediterranean waters where Athens claims exclusive rights to the underlying seabed.
Athens responded by summoning the Turkish ships to withdraw, sending its own warships to the area and placing its military on alert.
Ankara says it has every right to prospect in the area between Crete, Cyprus and southern Turkey claimed by Greece, as well as in nearby waters claimed by Cyprus, and will carry on regardless.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warmly welcomed a move by France two weeks ago to send two warships for joint drills with the Greek navy in the area sequestered by Turkey, while two French fighter jets were deployed to the Souda air base for joint flights.
The joint drills drew condemnation from Turkey.