Huffington Post Greece – Dec. 21, 2019
I can say with certainty that the real time for the signing of the Libyan-Turkish Memorandum of Understanding between Erdoğan and Sarraj was at their meeting after the NATO summit in London and not before that. And it was the result of the Turkish government’s increased self-confidence following the “Peace Spring” operation in eastern Syria, which Ankara implemented despite European and US congressional objections and US complacency in the Russian S-400 missile file.
It is clear that the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Sarraj government is another episode of the Turkish escalation series that began when Erdoğan and his party lost the battle of Istanbul with the S-400 agreement to reach Turkish piracy south of the Greek island of Crete. Here we need to dwell on the details of the Libyan file to understand the chances of success of recent Greek movements and what options may put an end to this Turkish piracy in Greek territorial waters.
In the Libyan dossier, the oil pie is the focus and the cause of conflicts and regional and international movements. But the setting is so complex that even many analysts in the Middle East and North Africa may be lost in its details. What is of interest to Athens in a nutshell is that there are two sides to the conflict, the first in Tripoli led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Saraj’s National Agreement government, supported by Turkey with weapons, logistics and intelligence, and the second in Benghazi led by General Khalifa Haftar, supported by many states, notably the UAE and Russia, which provide money, weapons and military training. The European side is divided as Italy supports Tripoli and France supports Benghazi.
Consequently, Europe’s division in the Libyan scene reduces its influence on recent Turkish movements. Therefore it is absurd to depend on Paris, London or even Berlin to put pressure on the Libyan government knowing the situation. Moreover, it is politically naive to expect them to pressure Ankara that is blackmailing them with the refugee card.
Indeed, the Greek government, shocked by the memorandum between Turkey and Libya, hoped that the London meetings at the summit of the leaders of NATO member states would have essentially contributed in Ankara’s taking a step back. The result was the exact opposite. Kyriakos Mitsotakis returned empty-handed, while Erdoğan returned with the Euro-American green light which led him to meet Sarraj for the second time in less than 20 days, and then persuade the Turkish parliament to ratify the Memorandum of Understanding. From this point on, the Greek government has had to lay down its hopes on the development of the internal situation in Libya, wishing the cancellation of the Memorandum of Understanding in the end, given the reaction of Haftar and the Tobruk Libyan Parliament to it.
As for the interior of Libya, the conflict in the field has actually lasted for more than four years and on paper for almost nine months. In the light of the balance of forces behind each side is a conflict within an endless vicious circle. If, indeed, it appears that Turkey is sending troops to Tripoli, this conflict will last long and no solution can be given militarily but will ultimately be political that satisfies all sides. Greek government’s plan based on the fast ending of the conflict with General Haftar’s victory who will then cancel the memorandum of understanding and return to the zero point is ignorant of reality and its details.
Suppose, for example, that Haftar, who is supported by the Russians, may have a different opinion if Putin sees things otherwise: the Russian military support is absolutely necessary for Haftar’s army who can not afford the consequences of its loss. And in the light of the excellent Russian-Turkish relations, which is evident from the Syrian file, Erdoğan can convince Putin that the Memorandum of Understanding with the Tripoli government is in Russia’s interest and more specifically the Turkish stream and the Russian energy projects in Europe. Turkey can block the Israeli plan to supply Europe with natural gas through its maritime border map with Libya and from there on, Putin can easily get Haftar to accept this memorandum of understanding.
While the Greek government is praying to God for Haftar to win, Ankara began communicating on the issue with Moscow, initially by phone conversation between Erdoğan and Putin, followed a day later by a large Turkish delegation to Moscow including the Turkish Defence and Foreign Ministers and MIT leader Hakan Fidan with the Libyan file at the top of this visit’s discussions. Yesterday, the Russian government announced that it was in contact with both Haftar and Sarraj – apparently through Turkey. And here we have to ask the Greek Government the following question: Does it have a Plan B?
The slow response of the Greek government has been and continues to be the reason for the continued Turkish escalation. When Ankara moved to the Cyprus region last summer, it was not strongly confronted by Athens and Nicosia, which logically led Turkey to push for a new escalation, the result of which was the signing of the memorandum with the Libyan Government of National Accord. It is a reality that is evolving day by day and may be the prelude to other Turkish moves, why not to the islands of the eastern Aegean or even the Treaty of Lausanne.
If the Greek government had moved immediately before the NATO summit by signing a memorandum with the Haftar side, it would have forced Turkey to reconsider its position, take a step back and sit at the negotiating table to find a middle solution. There is now little time to try to save the game. First of all, there must be immediate contact with Haftar, and secondly, a strong alliance with Israel – though there is already a leak in Israeli media that there is secret talks with Turkey – and those involved in the region, Cyprus, Egypt and Haftar and to make clear that the Turkish actions threaten primarily Eastmed in transporting gas to Europe and may be the beginning of a further escalation in Egyptian and Libyan waters.
If the above fail, then the Greek government should use all its means – revision of the bases and defence cooperation agreements but also of the Skopje one – to force the Americans to take a clear position on Turkish unlawfulness not done so far and pressure Turkey. Also, if it is revealed that Tel Aviv is in talks with Ankara and has accepted that it has rights in this maritime area, Greece must officially declare that the Eastmed project does not exist. Let the Israelis choose a side. Either Greece, or Turkey.
Athens is neither politically nor militarily weak. It has a lot of cards it can use to advance its interests. But it probably suffers from the presence of people with a leading role in the Greek political scene who cannot face political crises. I rest my case.