The presence of military assets from the United States and other Allied countries at the Souda Naval Base near Chania, western Crete, is a usual sight, yet the arrival of a French military transport aircraft has sparked speculation over heightened activity amid the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and the Red Sea, and the role the base plays in heightened operations in the wider region.

The EU is planning to field a military presence, primarily naval vessels, in the Red Sea to protect shipping lanes and commercial vessels from attacks by the north Yemen-based Houthi rebels.

Meanwhile, EU defense ministers reportedly accepted a proposal by the Greek Defense Minister Nikos Dendias on Wednesday for Athens to assume command of a forthcoming military operation in the Red Sea, and to host the mission’s headquarters in Greece, a move that may explain the arrival of the French transport aircraft Breguet Atlantique on Crete.

The Greek minister said the country would be present in all international initiatives that guarantee peace and international legality in the Middle East,” in response to questions tabled at the foreign affairs and defense committee.

Although the Breguet Atlantique is mainly tasked with missions involving electronic warfare and intelligence gathering, it can also provide security of naval air forces, while it is also capable of air and sea combat.

The 31.70-meter-long aircraft can operate for 14 hours without refueling (or 4,300 Nautical miles) and is manned with a 12-member crew.

It also carries two AM39 missiles or four laser-guided 250 kg bombs, and four MU90 torpedoes.