ATHENS (Reuters) -Six new Rafale fighter jets flew low over the Acropolis in central Athens on Wednesday, the first planes purchased under a defence deal with France that has further stirred tensions with Greece’s historic rival and NATO partner Turkey.
Greece has ordered a total of 24 Dassault-made jets at a cost of more than 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) as it seeks to modernise its armed forces amid a long-simmering dispute with Turkey over energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
Other areas of tension include air space, the status of some Aegean islands, and the ethnically-divided island of Cyprus, but the two countries re-launched exploratory talks last year.
“The new Rafale jets which landed today are ready to take off for a better, more peaceful future for the whole region,” Greece’s conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.
Greek television broadcast live the first six jets approaching the Tanagra airbase near Athens, where the message “Welcome home” beamed from the control tower.
Mitsotakis, who also announced tax breaks for members of the defence forces, police, coast guard and firefighters, said the Rafale deal was contributing to Europe’s strategy for autonomy.
Greece’s parliament ratified a defence pact with France, a NATO ally, in October whereby they would come to each other’s aid in the event of an external threat. The pact includes an order for three French frigates worth a further 3 billion euros.
The deals, which come after a decade-long financial crisis in Greece, have fuelled distrust in Turkey, at loggerheads with Athens over issues including their respective maritime boundaries and continental shelves.
France says the accord is not aimed against any third country but that Greece, guarding the European Union’s southeastern flank, must be protected.
“We obviously don’t need anyone’s permission for their acquisition,” Mitsotakis said of the Rafale jets. “With the same determination that our country shuts the door to every threat, it keeps the windows open for dialogue.”
($1 = 0.8821 euros)
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Additional reporting by George Georgiopoulos; editing by Gareth Jones and Philippa Fletcher)