Turkey seeks to protect its sole ally in Med basin

Turkey seeks to protect its sole ally in Med basin

The two memoranda of understandings Turkey signed with Libya on Nov. 27 have already changed balances on both the eastern Mediterranean and the Libyan civil war theaters.

The one on the delimitation of the maritime jurisdiction areas in the Mediterranean has already been brought to the attention of the U.N. while other littoral countries, as well as the European Union, slammed the move as not complying with the Law of the Sea and cannot produce any legal consequences for third parties, meaning Greece and Greek Cyprus. A discussion on its legal parameters will likely go on in the coming period. 

The other MoU between Turkey and Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) on defense and security cooperation was submitted to the Turkish Parliament for the accomplishment of necessary legislative procedures over the weekend although parliament is heavily busy with the 2020 budget. 

The scope of the agreement has been outlined under article 4 of the MoU. Training, consultancy, experience transfer, planning and material support for the establishment of a Rapid Reaction Force covering police and military responsibilities in Libya are among the fields the two parties will cooperate in. If requested, establishing a joint Office of Defense and Security Cooperation in each other’s soils with enough personnel and experts will also be possible. This item can be regarded as the legal basis of Turkey’s potential deployment of troops to Libya. 

Allocation of naval, air and ground vehicles as well as weapons, executing joint counter-terror operations, cooperation in the field of intelligence, maritime law and exchange of military personnel constitute other areas of cooperation envisaged by the bilateral agreement.

The agreement document gives the impression that the expenses that will come out of the implementation of this deal will be covered by Turkey.

It’s expected that the MoU will soon be ratified at the parliament so that it could enter into force as soon as possible. 

The rush for this has reasons. From the Turkish strategic perspective, it’s of vital importance that the GNA under the leadership of Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj survives and keeps its power in Libya as the U.N.-backed authority. At a time when the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of General Khalifa Haftar has intensified its military campaign against the Tripoli-based al-Sarraj forces with the backing of its international sponsors, including Russians and some major Arab powers, Turkey sees that it has no time to lose. 

Turkey’s support for Libya’s GNA has three important objectives: First, the GNA under the leadership of al-Sarraj is Turkey’s sole ally in the entire Mediterranean basin. The importance of Turkey’s political and military investment into Libya could be better understood when thinking of the growing alliance between Greece, Greek Cyprus, Egypt and Israel at the expense of ignoring the rights of the Turkish 

Cypriots and Turkey itself. A defeat of the GNA against the Haftar forces would be a defeat of Turkey as well. 

Related to this, the fate of the delimitation of maritime jurisdiction agreement is also very much dependent on the continued presence of the GNA in power. Therefore, the security and defense cooperation deal functions in fact as the guardian of Turkey’s rights in the Mediterranean Sea. 

The third is about the historic relationship between the two countries and the projected bilateral economic and energy partnership. Turkish businessmen have been in Libya for a long time and even at very difficult times and it’s only natural for Turkey to play its role in line with its own interest. 

According to the statements from the Turkish authorities, Turkey seems to have the intention to deploy troops to Libya when requested from the Tripoli-government. Many in Ankara suggest that this deployment would be limited to provide training and consultancy services to the GNA without any combat mission. However, even this move would be seen as a violation of existing U.N. Security Council resolutions on the arms embargo. Plus, physical involvement in the Libyan civil war would make Turkey become a party of the military conflict and put it under the spotlights of the international community, unlike many others who are playing their cards behind the scenes.