REVEALED: How the Exocet SSM systems reached Cyprus

Ω Giorgos Adalis
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How did the Exocet SSM systems reach Cyprus, Giorgos Adalis

The mobilization of the Turkish fleet in the previous period was enormous. It stretched from the cape of Agios Andreas in Cyprus to Kastellorizo and from the border of the Greek-Egyptian EEZ to the gulf of Sirte. If it were to protect the two Turkish Petroleum vessels, two flotillas would suffice. But here we are talking about around 60 ships that were used in this vast sea area. Was Erdogan looking for hydrocarbons, or was it something more serious?

According to a military source, what we experienced in recent months, with the Turkish fleet deploying throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, would have been experienced earlier this year if the coronavirus pandemic had not occurred. The Turks did not sail to support their research vessels boats that were pirating in the seas of Cyprus and Greece.

After all, their design and provocativeness did not show that this was the mission, not even the "flag-raising" and the graying of these sea areas. The mobilization of the Navy and the Air Force cost Turkey 600-700 million, at a time when its foreign exchange reserves have fallen to the lowest levels. What was it that forced Erdogan to order this very expensive operation that lasted a total of 54 days?

In November 2019, it was first heard semi-officially that Greece and France were going to conclude a military agreement. Part of this agreement was the equipping of the Greek Army with weapons which greatly worried Turkish officers. In the last week of January, some articles began to be written about procurements of Rafale fighters, nEUROn UCAVs, [email protected] frigates and missile defense systems for the islands.

The Rafale surprised Turkey

The government, however, seems to have decided to make such purchases. These weapons systems de facto change the doctrine of passive defense. The Rafale procurement ensures air superiority, due to the fighter's advanced technology they have through artificial intelligence of radars, but also their other advantages. The first of these concerns nEUROn and which we have already referred to in a previous article, which provoked a debate in Parliament.

The second advantage of Rafale is their range. Until now, the Turks could have been quiet, as the F-16s could not operate deep in the Turkish hinterland due to their limited range. Rafale have more than double the range without refueling. They can comfortably operate over Cyprus as well. But the reason why Ankara is very worried is that, last February, the discussion with Paris about the purchase of Exocet missile defense missiles began.

It is a missile system, which, at very low cost, installed on shores, is very effective against warships over very long distances. In other words, Exocet is turning the islands into traps for the Turkish Navy. They can sink not only landing ships but also modern frigates, as well as corvettes. This is probably the reason why Ankara raised the issue of demilitarization of the Greek islands.

Erdogan panics over the Exocet

At the end of February, the Greek-French talks aroused the interest of Nicosia. The Republic of Cyprus is far behind in the field of bolstering its defenses. However, it took the decisive step by buying Exocet, which can cover the Cypriot EEZ. The pandemic temporarily froze the implementation of the France-Cyprus agreement. Erdogan's reaction was the escalation of his aggressive actions in both Cyprus and Greece.

In the background, in fact, he did everything to cancel the purchase of Exocet. He put pressure not only on France, but also on Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy, and even the United States. These countries are involved in MBDA Missile Systems, the manufacturer of Exocet, as well as other weapons systems, such as Meteor missiles.

The MBDA has three centers in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and the USA, four in the UK, and one in India. Ankara tried to create an internal rift in MDBA to stop the sale of Exocet to Cyprus. Somewhere here one may find the answer to the partial lifting of the embargo on arms sales from the US to Cyprus.

MBDA is a European armaments giant with 12,000 employees, which has undergone a series of mergers and acquisitions since the 1990s. It currently belongs to BAE Systems (37.5%), Airbus (37.5%) and Leonardo (25%). It looks like France is out of this scheme. The current corporate structure of MBDA, however, would not exist if in 2001 French firm Matra did not accept its transformation into Aerospatiale-Matra Missiles (1999) and next year to merge with the then EADS, which today is Airbus!

The extortion that failed

France's technological and economic contribution has since been crucial for this European manufacturer. So despite the shares showing other flags, MBDA is a French "child". That is why from that time to this day the company's charter stipulates that a French citizen will be at the helm, regardless of who owns the company shares. Since June 1, 2019, the CEO of MBDA is Frenchman Eric Beranzer, who replaced his compatriot Antoine Bouvier.

Both have served at Matra and are on the team advising President Macron. However, the quarantine greatly delayed the delivery of Exocet to Cyprus. It gave Ankara time to move in all directions to thwart the sale, but failed. The delivery of Exocet started in June. Erdogan's anger against Macron is also due to this.

Due to the size and weight of the Exocet, the Turks considered that they would be transported to Cyprus by ship. They went so far as to even threaten shipping companies that if they transported the missiles to Cyprus they would suffer consequences, implying that they would obstruct the transport at gunpoint. In order to prevent the transfer by French and/or Greek warships, Erdogan ordered the aforementioned huge mobilization of his Navy.

The first loading of missile parts at the MBDA facilities took place on June 5, 2020, while the delivery to Cyprus seems to have taken place on July 31, 2020. In the meantime, Erdogan had reached extremes. Turkish ships had "closed off" the sea area between Kastellorizo and Crete. They were also present on the sea routes south of Crete. According to one piece of information, he also asked for help from Russian spy ships, which he did not receive.

As it is known, due to Oruc Reis and not only, the Greek fleet also sailed to the open seas, a fact that confused Ankara. One hypothesis for the reason that the frigate Kemal Reis tried to ram the frigate "Lemnos" was to prevent the transport of Exocet missiles by Greek ships. The Turks probably thought that some canisters on the side of "Lemnos" were Exocet missiles, or segments.

Erdogan has been left wondering

The delivery of Exocet was decided in installments of 10 systems. Few knew when and how. When the first batch arrived on Cyprus, the Turks were dumbfounded because they could not find how they were shipped. Despite the escalation of the threats, they agreed with Berlin on the resumption of Greek-Turkish negotiations, setting a condition for Greece to be pressured not to strengthen the islands' defense with Exocet and other missile systems. Thus the issue of "partial demilitarization" came to the table.

And while Merkel and Stolderberg facilitated Erdogan's pursuit, Macron landed three Rafale fighters at the "Andreas Papandreou" base in Paphos to send the message that France would not tolerate possible Turkish intervention to stop the shipment and installation of Exocet missiles. Something that Erdogan did not expect. Neither did the Israeli consent to these plans, as the Israeli commandos rushed to the island faster than officially, in preparation for an Israeli-Cypriot exercise.

In essence, Erdogan is beginning to understand that the transfer was being carried out in some other way. Because his minions had searched and scanned dozens of ships with a variety of scanning systems and had not found the Exocet. So, the Turks started looking toward the sky! Maybe they had some information. So France was forced to cut a number of ten deliveries down to eight, speeding up delivery and installation.

The last delivery to Cyprus took place on September 7 and 3 days later the meeting between President Macron and PM Mitsotakis took place in Corsica. Erdogan, therefore, spent a large part of the defense budget, looking for missiles at sea, but the Exocet went to Cyprus by air and no one ever learned what aircraft were transported and who piloted such.

Erdogan is still looking to “identify” the Rafale pilots who destroyed the Al Watiya base in western Libya! Maybe in the end a retired senior officer is right, whom I consulted before writing this article, whether I should write it or not: "Do not overestimate the Turks! We know them. "

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