French-Turkish tensions over Libya, Syria

Ahram Online , Thursday 2 Jul 2020

French President Emmanuel Macron accused Turkey of “playing a dangerous game” in war-torn Libya

Emmanuel Macron and Recep Tayyip Erdogan
File Photo: French President Emmanuel Macron (R), and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (AFP)

Turkey's intervention in Libya has resulted in complicating its relationship with France even further.

The latest sign of tension between the two NATO member states took place on Wednesday.

French Ambassador to NATO Muriel Domenach told the secretary-general of the military alliance Jens Stoltenberg that Paris will temporarily withdraw from Operation Sea Guardian, a NATO naval operation in the Mediterranean.

Domenach, in her letter to NATO, explained that a NATO report — which came after the alliance started a probe in June — over a French-Turkish naval incident “did not establish the facts.” Paris is definitely looking forward to see a clearer stance from NATO officials on this case.

France says that Turkey acted aggressively on 10 June towards its Courbet warship in the Eastern Mediterranean after it sought to inspect a vessel that it believes was disregarding a UN arms embargo on Libya.

According to the French narrative, which the Turks described as “groundless”, Turkish warships used their radar lights three times at the Courbet, while Turkish sailors wore bullet-proof vests while holding light weapons.

It can be argued that these devleopments came in light of the French-Turkish disagreements on Libya.

Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron accused Turkey of “playing a dangerous game” in the war-torn state.

"I have already had the opportunity to say very clearly to President (Tayyip) Erdogan, I consider that Turkey is playing a dangerous game in Libya today and going against all of its commitments made at the Berlin Conference," Macron said.

He warned that France “won’t tolerate the role that Turkey is playing in Libya.” Macron even backed the “legitimate concern of President Sisi when he sees troops arriving at his border.”

“This is a Mediterranean subject that affects us because today from Libya each day men and women are fleeing misery to come to Europe. Do you think we can let Turkey for a long time import Syrian fighters to Libya given everything we know," Macron explained.

The Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in Tripoli, is backed by Turkish troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries in its war against the eastern-based Libyan National Army and its leader Khalifa Haftar. Ankara, according to Reuters, is conducting talks with the GNA for a possible use of the Misrata naval base and Al-Watiya air base.

Other factors also are leading to this outcome, including Ankara’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and northern Syria. In May, in a teleconference meeting that was joined by France, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, all five states slammed the Turkish “illegal activities” in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“The weight of the participating countries and their endeavour to enhance stability and the primacy of international law cannot be ignored. [It was] an important platform established by the primacy of the language of international law over the laws of the jungle," tweeted then Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash.

The meeting came after Turkey signed an accord with the GNA last year to create an exclusive economic zone from Turkey’s southern Mediterranean shore to Libya’s northeast coast. Some of the areas involved are around Cyprus, and the latter accuses Turkey of searching for gas in its territorial waters.

Meanwhile, in Syria, the French leadership expressed anger about the Turkish military operations in the war-torn state, fearing its impact on the revival of the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

France, constantly meeting with Kurdish officials, slammed the Turkish operations in October 2019 in areas that are under the control of the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

By then, the French military was not happy with the US withdrawal from northeastern Syria.

“We are going to be extremely careful that this announced disengagement from the United States and a possible offensive by Turkey does not create a dangerous manoeuvre that diverts from the goal we all pursue -- the fight against Islamic State -- and which is dangerous for the local population,” the French defence minister Florence Parly was quoted as saying to reporters.

“We must be extremely vigilant that a manoeuvre of this kind can not, contrary to the goal of the coalition, strengthen (IS) rather than weaken and eradicate it,” said Parly. 

Short link: