Huffington Post Greece – Dec. 09, 2019
In less than a year, Turkish President Erdoğan hosted for the second time Prime Minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord, Fayez al Sarraj, in an attempt to give greater legitimacy to the Tripoli government under the shadow of a civil war lasting almost a year with the army led by General Khalifa Haftar. At the end of this meeting, and without any preparations, Ankara announced the signing of a memorandum on maritime security and maritime borders between the two countries. This statement was a great shock to both Greece and Egypt that are directly involved in this file. The signed memorandum includes a map of maritime borders remodeling the entire eastern Mediterranean. Athens condemned the event and gave Libyan ambassador in Athens a deadline to adduce the text of the memorandum, otherwise he would be deported, as it finally happened. Cairo, on the other hand, condemned this step as an extension of other Turkish actions in Libya that the international community must urgently prevent. Despite the high tones of condemnation, Turkey goes on with this memorandum far from the language of the sheep adopted by the other sides. Here, I will try to explain the reasons why this step has been taken now, its legal background and ways to stop it.
In order to handle this file correctly, one must understand the situation in both Ankara and the Libyan region. The Turkish government, despite threats and promises from allied Kurdish militias in northeast Syria, is continuing its “Peace Spring” operation to create a safe zone along the Syrian-Turkish border, with US-Russian consent. This has created a state of confidence on the Turkish scene, especially after overcoming without sanctions or with negligible impact the supply of Russian S-400s. With this confidence Ankara felt the time was right to shake the waters of the eastern Mediterranean.
For the past three years, we have seen intensive action from Athens, Tel Aviv, Cairo and Nicosia towards delimiting their maritime borders. Of course, they ignored Turkey, which was in a weak internal, regional and international situation. For Turkey, it is time to return to the Eastern Mediterranean file. Its first step was to dispatch three gas exploration vessels to the Cyprus area, which happened smoothly without problems. Then came the second step of signing the MoU with Libya.
In Libya, the domestic political scene is very complex. I will try to make it as understandable as possible. In short, the scene involves a conflict between two sides. The first dominates the eastern and central parts of Libya, led by General Khalifa Haftar, with the support of the Libyan House of Representatives and internationally by France, Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Russia. The other side is the Government of National Accord, which controls parts of western Libya and the capital Tripoli and is internationally supported by Italy and Turkey. To make it easier for the reader to understand, the conflict is based on who will have the biggest stake in Libya’s oil pie.
So, essentially, Turkey’s recent move a few days ago to write down the details of a memorandum of understanding by redesigning the maritime border between the two countries is the first step for those to follow and may include the annexation of northern Cyprus, as well as movements in the Aegean Sea. As I realise, they brought in Ankara the Prime Minister of Libya, whom they support financially, militarily and politically, to sign a white paper on which they wrote what they wanted.
Watching the statements of Greek officials and various analysts in recent days, they all looked like each other. They repeatedly talked about an illegal agreement because it ignores the existence of the Greek islands of Crete, Rhodes, etc., which cover a huge geographical area. However, this response is inadequate and confirms a great deal of ignorance of what is really happening in Libya in the last nine years.
The most important legal response to this memorandum is the presentation of the documents of the Skhirat agreement signed in Morocco on December 17, 2015, which was accepted by all Libyan political sides, namely the Tripoli government, the parliament and general Haftar. The agreement expressly stipulates that only the Libyan House of Representatives based in Tobruk exercises legislative power and oversees the executive power and that the government cannot enter into international agreements and conventions unless ratified by it. The Memorandum between Ankara and Tripoli therefore has no legal force unless ratified by the Libyan Parliament.
It is clear that statements of condemnation by the Greek government, European governments or even the European Parliament were not capable of stopping Ankara from its recent excesses. Gas exploration moves in the eastern Mediterranean last summer are a good example. Therefore, Athens, has to re-read the scene and adjust its strategy accordingly.
In politics one country is always faced with two options, there is no third. Either it will be the wolf, or it will be the sheep. Athens has adopted the policy of sheep in dealing with Turkey and Europe, in refugees issue, in hydrocarbons and in all files over the past years. This policy has to change, otherwise the future will be more difficult and humiliating. Therefore, the real and effective response to the Turkish movement is to communicate directly with General Haftar and not only with the Libyan parliament, inviting him to Athens and then signing a memorandum of understanding that will lay the foundation for drawing up sea borders. between the two countries. Thus, the Ankara Memorandum will be ink on paper in front of the paper in Athens’ hands. This will be a loud message making clear that any Turkish escalation will face the appropriate Greek escalation. Eye for an eye.
I hope that Greek officials have realized that the time has come for a new reading of the regional and international political scene. Démarches to Paris and Berlin did not and will not stop Ankara. Only a solid policy based on the above will show Turkey its limits.