France announces sale of six Rafael jets to Greece amid Turkey tensions
France on Sunday sold six Rafael fighter jets to Greece’s air force, at a time of heightened tensions over a string of issues with neighbouring Turkey.
The news was first announced by Greece on Saturday before being confirmed by French defence minister Florence Parly over Twitter on Sunday.
"Excellent news: Greece has just announced its intention to acquire six additional Rafales. Together, we are working to build true European autonomy," Parly tweeted.
The latest acquisitions brings the number of Dassault Rafael fighter jets in Greek service to 24. Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that a deal was made with France to initially purchase 18 jets, adding that a decision was made to acquire an additional six.
Greece and Turkey over the last year have been at odds over Turkish maritime claims in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Ankara claims a wide swath of the waters as part of its exclusive economic zone as part of a controversial deal signed with Libya in November 2019. This deal has been condemned as illegitimate by Egypt, Greece and Cyprus among others who saw it as blatant infringement on their own maritime borders.
France emerged as a staunch supporter of Greece in its competition with Turkey. Owing to its own disputes with Ankara, Paris has increased its diplomatic and military support for Athens and French forces have joined Greek naval forces for military exercises. The Rafael deal was inked for $6 billion in January and Parly praised Athens for making a “European choice” for its new fighter jet.
Speaking on Greece’s Rafael purchase over the summer, Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar accused Athens of “engaging in an arms race”.
Turkey and Greece have made some moves to de-escalate tensions with mutual visits by officials up to the level of foreign ministers of the two countries. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has made and received several phone calls from Kyriakos in recent months, including to share concerns over the risk of Afghan refugees fleeing to Europe.
Meanwhile, France has also seen its tensions reduce with Turkey following a meeting between Erdoğan and President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of a NATO summit in June.