Interview: Jalel Harchaoui
France and Turkey are engaged in a war of words over their interventions in Libya.
The escalation in dialogue follows a June 10 incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, which France considers a hostile act under NATO’s rules of engagement.
Jalel Harchaoui, Libya analyst at the Conflict Research Unit of the Clingendael Institute, says France lacks a clear strategy on Libya.
France calls out NATO over ‘Turkey problem’ as alliance meets
NATO defense ministers gathered amid a vocal argument between France and Turkey over a series of issues. France took issue with a naval incident in the Med, Turkey’s support for one side in Libya’s civil war, and more.
A French defense ministry official on Wednesday urged NATO to address its “Turkey problem,” amid rising tensions over Libya and other issues. The comments came ahead of NATO defense ministers convening for two days from Wednesday.
“We have known complicated moments in the alliance, but we can’t be an ostrich and can’t pretend there isn’t a Turkey problem at NATO. We have to see it, say it and handle it,” said the official.
The two allies have traded barbs over the latest chapter of a decade of civil war in Libya, accusing each other of supporting opposing sides in the country’s current power struggle.
On Tuesday, Turkey said France violated UN and NATO decisions by supporting the forces of military strongman Khalifa Haftar against the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) – led by Fayez Sarraj.
Naval incident prompts angry statement and rebuttal
France’s defense ministry on Wednesday accused a Turkish naval vessel of harassing one of its ships in the Mediterranean, saying its ship was trying to uphold the UN’s arms embargo to Libya, and implying therefore that Turkey was trying to enable the delivery of weapons to the Tripoli-based government.
France described the ship’s actions as “extremely aggressive” and “unacceptable by an ally against a NATO ship.”
According to the French account of the event several weeks ago, Turkish frigates carried out radar targeting three times, suggesting a missile strike was imminent, after French sailors carried out checks in the Mediterranean on a cargo ship that they suspected of breaking the embargo.
A senior Turkish official denied France’s accusation, however, telling the Reuters news agency that “no such thing” had occurred.
The GNA, based in Tripoli, is backed by Turkey, Qatar and Italy — while the rival Libyan National Army, led by military strongman Khalifa Haftar, is supported by Russia, the UAE and Egypt.
Although not formally partisan, France is thought to harbor more sympathy for Haftar than many in Europe.
Surprise visit to Tripoli
In a move likely sour relations between France and Turkey still further, top Turkish officials paid an unannounced visit to the GNA in Libya’s capital Tripoli on Wednesday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan discussed with GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj the “latest developments in the crisis” in Libya and the “international efforts to resolve it,” the GNA said in a statement.
The meeting also covered the “monitoring of the implementation of the military and security memorandum of understanding” concluded in November 2019 between Tripoli and Ankara, the statement added.
It was under this agreement that Turkey had reinforced its military support of the GNA, tilting the balance against Haftar.