War /

The multinational military drill Medusa-10 was completed last week and highlights some of the current key security and geopolitical trends in the Eastern Mediterranean region. The armed forces of Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, and the UAE participated in this annual exercise, which this time — compared to previous years — conveyed significant political messages in addition to its typical projection of defense capabilities.

Training was held November 30 to Dec. 6 in the eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt.

Composition of Forces

Since Egyptian-Greek defense cooperation and coordination were the key objectives of this exercise, these two countries contributed the bulk of the participating forces.

Among the participating forces from the Egyptian side, were several high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (Humvees), a mechanized infantry subunit, a multi-mission guided-missile frigate with her organic Kaman SH-2G helicopter, one Submarine, two fast patrol boats, several multirole aircraft, 1 CH-47 Chinook, and 4 Kamov Ka-52 helicopters.

From the Greek side were included two frigates, one type 214 submarine, one landing ship, four F-16 fighter jets, operating from Greece and another four fighter jets operating from Cairo, one Airborne Early Warning and Control Unit (AEW&C), four helicopters of the Hellenic Army Aviation Force (one CH-47 Chinook and three AH-64 Apaches) and one C-130 transport aircraft.

Cyprus deployed an Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) and the United Arab Emirates contribued four Mirage 2000 aircraft, and four Black Hawk helicopters. Finally, the French Cassard-class anti-air frigate Jeane Bart also took part in the exercise, solidifying the presence of the French Navy in the region.

The Key Role of Special Operators in the Drills

Apart from the aforementioned forces, we should highlight the unique role of the SOF units (Special Operations Forces) in Medusa-10. The contributing countries proved that they are able to coordinate in terms of special operations and asymmetric warfare tactics by including some of their most prestigious and high-caliber military elements the drills.

These units held a prominent role for the duration of the exercise, but the most important aspect of Medusa-10 was the direct cooperation and integration of SOF personnel in joint drills, something that has never happened in the past. Specifically there have been occasions where multinational SOF teams were created and worked together on several scenarios, a rare practice which underscores the great degree of cooperation and the high professionalism of those units.

Incident with the Turkish Navy

While the exercise was ongoing a vessel of the Turkish Navy tried to interrupt the training. The Turkish frigate Kemal Reis began moving close to the area of the drill on Friday December 4, one day prior to the final and most important phase of the exercise (DV Day).

Kemal Reis was en route to an Egyptian frigate and reached a distance of 20 nautical miles away from the exercises. Once the course of the Turkish vessel was spotted, the Egyptian ship adjusted its direction pointing to Kemal Reis, pushing the Turkish vessel to begin a retreat. Kemal Reis was moving into the proximity of the area of the drill under the close monitoring of the participating forces; whatever the Turkish intent actually was, the whole presence of their ship was rather pointless and failed to disrupt the ongoing exercise.

Medusa-10 was a Success

I have been in contact with officers who participated in the exercise and they confirmed that the level of cooperation and operational coordination was extremely high. Medusa-10 brought together staff from five different countries with mutual goals in the Eastern Mediterranean and enabled high-level collaboration among the armed forces of the participating states, from the tactical to the strategic level.

The Greek and Cypriot sides have been traditionally working closely, sharing a similar mindset regarding the security landscape and defense doctrine in the region. During Medusa-10, the Egyptians and Emiratis showcased that they share many of the same concerns and are aligning with this approach. At the mid-senior level the officers of these countries agree on the threat perception fueled by the Turkish activity in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Exercises like Medusa-10 bring units closer together who could eventually operate in the region during a potential confrontation with Turkey. The feeling of a mutual mission and common objectives is the most significant aspect of the whole process, probably more essential than any pragmatic training activity.

A Perplexing Reality is Developing in the Eastern Mediterranean

While Medusa-10 has been successfully completed, further geopolitical developments and new alliances are emerging in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Greece has repeatedly witnessed a lukewarm EU response against Turkish aggression, so a potential partnership with regional powers who share aligning interests with Athens could prove to be a much more fruitful tactic.

However, the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean is not that simple. Even though France is backing Greece in this dispute, there is no guarantee from Paris that it would militarily intervene in the unfortunate event of a Greek-Turkish escalation. Even though that is an unlikely scenario it could accidentally happen given the pressure and the tense activity of the previous months.

On the other hand, Athens and Abu Dhabi signed a defense agreement in November, which among other things dictates that each country should militarily assist the other in case of an attack from a third party. This specific part is rather utopic in the case of a potential attack from Turkey, and its only purpose was to create political impressions.

Considering that Greece and Turkey are NATO members, any UAE involvement in a potential confrontation between the two would create a very complex situation for the North Atlantic coalition and is highly unlikely to happen — not to mention the controversy of a Sunni monarchy joining an officially Orthodox Christian country fighting against a fellow Muslim power.

Even if politics could override religion at the senior levels of these nations’ political leadership, the situation would be much more challenging moving bottom-up from the soldiers to the junior and mid-level officers. In this sense the current status quo in the Eastern Mediterranean remains fluid and highly unpredictable.