Unannounced and unobtrusively, Turkey has embarked on the biggest naval "exercise" it has ever staged in the Mediterranean Sea, although its codename Operation Barbarossa speaks louder than words,
The US Sixth Fleet and European NATO members' navies won't have missed the new arrivals in the waters they regularly cruise and Turkish historians will have picked up the connotation of its codename:
Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha (1478 –1546) was an Ottoman admiral who dominated the Mediterranean for decades. He was born on the island of Lesbos/ Mytilini and died in Constantinople (Istanbul), the Ottoman capital. Hayreddin which literally means Goodness or best of the Religion of Islam was an honorary name given him by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The name Barbarossa (Redbeard in Italian) he inherited from his elder brother "Baba Oruç" who died in battle with the Spanish in Algeria.
The operation's label therefore trumpets Turkey's ambition to hark back to the days when the Ottoman Empire ruled the waves of the Middle East and beyond.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military experts evaluate the new naval balance:
The Turkish Navy has 19 frigates, 14 submarines, 7 corvettes, 75 navy aircraft and 108 fast attack craft, manned by a total of 48,600 personnel.
Based at its Southern Sea Area Command headquartered in Izmir are a naval infantry brigade and an amphibious group operating out of Foca and a naval infantry battalion in Izmir.
At the Aksaz Naval Base Command near Marmaris, Turkey maintains special units for underwater defense and attacks, as well as six naval helicopters.
Also in the south, Turkey has its largest naval training center at Iskenderun.
The Turkish Air Force has more than 250 F-16 and F-4E Phantom fighter aircraft. Over 50 of the latter were modernized by Israel in the 1990s and 2000s. Turkey is also purchasing some 100 next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II fighter jets.
Turkey outmatched both quantitatively and qualitatively
It is obvious to any naval warfare expert that this fleet is not up to challenging the US and European forces on duty in the Mediterranean.
It would even be outmatched by Israel's much smaller navy, which numbers only three corvettes, 10 missile boats, three submarines and 42 patrol boats and is manned by some 19,500 personnel. This is because Israel enjoys air superiority in the eastern Mediterranean thanks to a flock of missile-armed drones operating from bases close to its Mediterranean coast and its novel electronic systems, which are capable of jamming the command, control, weapons systems and communications networks carried aboard Turkish warships.
In May 2010, Israel chose not to impose an electronic blackout on the Turkish-led flotilla which aimed to break Israel's blockade on the Gaza Strip so as not to expose its electronic secrets to Turkey whose Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was already showing marked hostility to the Jewish state. Instead, Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish Mavis Marmara to face armed activists in a clash which left nine dead.
Undeterred by the superior naval strength facing him, Erdogan let it be known the day before his "historic visit" to Cairo on Sept. 12, that the Turkish Navy is to dispatch three frigates to the eastern Mediterranean "to ensure the freedom of navigation" and to confront Israeli warships if necessary..
Turkish naval sources added that the frigates dispatched by the Southern Sea Area Command will protect civilian ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. If they encounter an Israeli military ship outside Israel's 12-mile territorial waters, they are instructed to advance to within 100 meters and disable its weapon.
The same sources likened a potential confrontation of this nature to "Turkish dogfights in the Aegean Sea with Greek jet fighters."
Ankara scraps with Nicosia over gas and oil exploration
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources read into the reference to dogfights with Greece Ankara's awareness of the military ties taking solid form between Greece, Turkey's traditional archenemy, and Israel since Ankara turned its back on Jerusalem. Under a mutual defense pact they signed secretly on Sept 4, the Israeli Air Force has permission to use Greek air bases.
The mention of Greece is a veiled Turkish threat to hold in its sights the Greek base from which Israeli combat planes and helicopters may take off. Also targeted are the Greek air and naval umbrella over Cyprus and the oil and gas wells Nicosia is about to drill in the eastern Mediterranean. Ankara suspects that the Israeli-Greek defense accords provide Greek Cyprus with an Israel air and naval shield. It is therefore packaging Israel, Greece and Greek Cyprus together as its prey.
Tuesday, Sept. 13, Cyprus and Turkey exchanged heated words over Nicosia's plans to start deep sea drilling for oil and gas next month. This further raised tempers at the peace talks taking place on the fate of the divided island at the same time as Ankara feuds with Israel.
Cypriot President Demetris Christofias denounced Turkish "threats." He asserted that Cyprus as a member of the European Union would expect the international community to come to its aid. Greece and Israel are already involved.
The Turkish foreign ministry spokesman hit back by slamming the Greek Cypriot government's plan to start exploiting oil and gas reserves before reaching a peace accord with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus –TRNC, which only Turkey recognizes.
Oil needed to promote neo-Ottomanism
Erdogan believes his maneuvers for stirring up a quarrel between Israel and Cyprus will result in pushing both out of the offshore oil and gas fields they are developing. The way will then be clear for a Turkish grab which is almost certain to be backed by Syria, Hizballah, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
Therefore, behind the Turkish leader's bitter taunts against Israel ("States like individuals have to pay the price for murders, for acts of terrorism they committed so that we can live in a more just world”), lurks a crude ulterior objective – namely, to snatch the oil and gas away from the Jews and Christians and transfer them into Muslim hands.
In a word, Erdogan needs control of energy resources to promote his neo-Ottoman ambitions and exercise his superiority in the oil-rich Middle East.
The Turks maintain that their new naval strategy is designed to ensure the security of navigation in the Eastern Mediterranean with the help of Turkish frigates, fast patrol boats, submarines, helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft and coast guard boats – and expand their destinations.
Our military and intelligence sources affirm that Operation Barbarossa is not confined to the Mediterranean. It aims to bring the Turkish navy to the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, the Adriatic Sea, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, maintaining these naval assets in a state of constant navigation in the sense of the Turkish phrase süyrüsefer.
Ruling the waves of six seas
The Erdogan regime thus seeks to establish a permanent fleet presence on the six seas of the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and southern Europe, having taken a leaf out of the Iranian book as articulated by Iranian Navy commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari on Aug. 21:
“Presence on the high seas needs a strategic naval force and any country able to maintain its long-term presence on the high seas enjoys a strategic advantage.”
The Iranian general had his eye on the Atlantic Ocean.