In three years, the political and security situation in Libya has hardly improved. The elections scheduled for 2021 have not taken place and, even if the main actors have changed, the country still has two governments, that led by Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, recognized by the United Nations, refusing to give way to that led by Fathi Bachagha, yet elected by the Libyan Parliament. Although close to the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood and former Minister of the Interior of the former government of national unity [GNA], he enjoys the support of the Libyan National Army [ANL] of Marshal Haftar.
Hence the legal questioning of this agreement… and the tensions that erupted after it was signed. Tensions which, moreover, gave rise to a serious incident between the French frigate Courbet and the Turkish navy, the latter having prevented the control of a cargo ship suspected of contravening the arms embargo decreed by the United Nations on the regard to Libya.
Having come to power in March 2021, Mr. Dbeibah, who is said to be close to Turkish economic circles, reaffirmed the validity of the agreement signed by his predecessor. And, while this affair has since passed into the background, Turkey pushed its advantage, at the beginning of October, by signing a memorandum of prospecting for hydrocarbons in Libyan waters with Tripoli. Enough to revive tensions with Greece and Egypt.
This memoradum “threatens stability and security in the Mediterranean”, argued Nikos Dendias, the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, during a trip to Cairo on October 9. And Libya “does not have the necessary sovereignty over this area” for one to enter into such an agreement which is therefore “illegal and inadmissible”, he added, before warning that Athens will use “all the legal means to defend his rights”. His Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Choukri, did not say anything else, except that, “his mandate having expired” [faut d’lections en 2021, ndlr], the Tripoli government “does not have the legitimacy to sign agreements.
It is therefore in this context that the European naval operation Irini, created in 2020 to control the arms embargo to apply to Libya, was unable to control the freighter MV Matilde A, beating flag of Turkey, for lack of having received authorization from Ankara. According to AIS data, which allows maritime traffic to be monitored, this vessel must go to the port of Misrata [Libya].
Recalling that it derives its mandate from Security Council Resolution No. 2292, EUNAVFOR Irini’s staff recalled that the UN asks “all its members to cooperate” in the context of these inspections.
According to the operation’s activity report, and since its launch, Irini has boarded and inspected 24 suspicious vessels, two of which were diverted to a port in an EU member state where their cargo was seized. As for Turkey, it has already refused on eight occasions to consent to the boarding and inspection of suspicious vessels. In addition, the European force investigated 7,298 merchant ships through requests for information via radio calls and visited 385 ships with the agreement of their captains [so-called friendly approaches].
Be that as it may, this Turkish refusal, which is therefore not the first and which will undoubtedly not be the last, may be linked to the nature of the cargo on board the MV Matilde A… but also to the fact that the command of the naval force of Irini is ensured, since October 1, by the Greek rear-admiral Stylianos Dimopoulos, who has put his mark on board the frigate HS Aegean. In addition, the French high seas patrol vessel [PHM, ex-aviso] Commandant Bouan is currently engaged in the European operation.