Deep in the guts of a small French destroyer flying over the tense seas in the eastern Mediterranean, dozens of men and women scanned the radar screens in the dark.
Among the red squares showing the positions of ships at sea, notably two Turkish probes, Oruc Reis and Barbaros.
For three months, the stealth vessel La Fayette patrolled the strategic area off the coasts of Syria, Greece and Cyprus.
The 170-man crew is on high alert, with geopolitical tensions seething since the discovery of the giant gas field and Athens and Greece contested over their maritime borders. surname.
Since August, France has deployed additional weapons in the eastern Mediterranean, known as the “Medor”; to the navy, amid a war of words about the Turkish invasion of the region. Sea of Greece and Cyprus.
With President Emmanuel Macron pledging “non-negotiable solidarity” to Greece and Cyprus, Paris needs to keep a close watch on events in the region – as well as convey a clear message to all involved. concerned.
La Fayette took part in exercises in August with Greece, Cyprus and Italy to show off a united European front against Ankara.
“Our main task is to observe everything that happens, to provide our commanders and political agencies with our understanding of the situation,” said the ship’s operations team leader, Lieutenant Mathieu. said.
He oversees central operations, CO center or neural center, a dark space to keep track of classified information where access is strictly restricted.
Data is collected from both ground and air radars as well as an infrared camera that monitors ships of “interest” day and night, including submarines on the surface.
These warfare tools detect the enemy’s electromagnetic footprints and complement the radar to give La Fayette a detailed overview of the eastern Mediterranean basin.
– “Avoid mistakes” –
The displays show a British warship in Limassol, Cyprus, Russians off the Syrian coast and Turkish Oruc Reis on a disputed energy exploration mission between the Greek islands of Kastellorizo and Rhodes Greece, before the protests of Athens.
There is also Turkey’s Barbaros, which carries out seismic expeditions in the southwestern part of Cyprus, escorted by two civilian ships to protect the giant cables equipped with underwater microphones.
“They have reduced their presence in the past weeks. We are checking that it will not increase again at one stage or another,” said Captain Sebastien Martinot, the ship’s commander.
With such a mission, “we unravel an area where more than ever we need clear truth to be able to make judgments, avoid mistakes and not rely on rumors, social media or even Press information from our allies, “he stressed.
During the three months at sea, “We have never watched the Turks so much,” said Lies, standing on a sunny bridge overlooking the Lebanese coast.
“We’ve seen them so many times, we know which ships are protecting them. But we don’t interfere, that’s not our role.”
– “The confrontation place” –
The order of the battle book lay beside him, dozens of pages in a plastic file, including photos and the identities of all the vessels La Fayette’s interest had passed.
At the stern, a Panther helicopter is preparing to take off.
“We are equipped with efficient sensors that can deploy dozens of knots and transmit data back to the ship,” said Lieutenant Denis, who heads the Panther group. “Our pictures usually end with general staff,” he laughed.
All information gathered daily is sent to the French Naval Regional Command (CECMED) in Toulon. It is also shared with the international anti-jihad settlement readiness for Iraq and Syria as well as Europe’s Irini established to enforce the United Nations arms embargo against Libya.
However, the data is not systematically shared with NATO, of which Turkey is a member, the captain admitted.
In the summer, Paris temporarily withdrew from NATO’s maritime security operations “Protector of the Sea” in the Mediterranean, after condemning the “extremely aggressive” behavior of the Turkish warship against the ship. France in an attempt to inspect a cargo ship suspected of carrying weapons to Libya.
Martinot contemplated how things have changed since he joined the navy, saying that “today the sea is considered a confrontation place”.
“Medor is an exciting, disturbing theater. We need a continued presence to assert Europe’s interests and freedom of navigation.”
dla / els / bp / tgb