Mauro Indelicato
Three years have passed since the signing of the memorandum between Libya and Turkey. It was November 2019, Ankara with that move entered by arrogance on the chessboard of the North African country. 

Erdogan, exploiting the usual Italian “distraction” and the loss of credibility, in Tripoli’s eyes, and of a France accused of being close to General Haftar , has crept into the Libyan dossier becoming one of the main international players.

In these three years then everything has happened. Pandemic, new internal crises in Libya and not least the war in Ukraine . Elements that have almost made us forget the signature on that memorandum. 

Today, however, Turkey dusted off the document, which on Monday again became an object potentially capable of fueling other conflicts. Ankara, starting from the agreements signed with the then government of Fayez Al Sarraj , entered into a pact with the current prime minister, Abdul Hamid Ddeibah , to secure Libyan gas and oil .

The question arises: is it the final act of the Turkish victory in Libya to the detriment of Italy? 

For Rome, the new Turkish-Libyan pact is not good news at all. But, on the other hand, it is not even the much feared exclamation point on the story.

What do the new agreements between Libya and Turkey foresee?

The 2019 memorandum was based on two fundamental aspects: delimitation of the respective Exclusive Economic Zones ( EEZs ) and military aid to counter the offensives of Khalifa Haftar, the strong man from eastern Libya under pressure on Tripoli at that time . 

The latter point was immediately applied: Erdogan had in fact already sent weapons and mercenaries in favor of Al Sarraj at the end of 2019 and the Libyan government was able to reject the general. 

The economic aspect, however, in these three years has been underestimated and little applied. 

Firstly because the new EEZs were in open contrast with the interests of other players in the eastern Mediterranean, starting with Greece and Egypt.

Secondly, because the perennial state of war in which Libya continued to sail did not allow the agreements to be applied. The distraction resulting from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine did the rest.

On 27 August, however, Tripoli was again under attack . 

The protagonists have changed, but not the scenarios. The government is Ddeibah, appointed in 2021 as part of a path desired by the United Nations that was to lead to elections (which were never held). 

In the east, however, General Haftar has a more secluded role, but there is still another government that is pawing to take the place of the authorities currently in Tripoli: it is the one led by Fathi Bashaga . It was his militias at the end of August that attacked the capital. 

Turkish intervention with drones and pro-Ankara mercenaries still present prevented the capitulation of Ddeibah. Erdogan then asked for the bill.

On 3 October, Turkey dusted off that memorandum, adding new agreements of an economic nature. Secret agreements for the moment, of which, however, as pointed out by Agenzia Nova , the Libyan press has given ample anticipation. 

The document would consist of seven articles and would be valid for three years. It would include, among other things, the right for Turkey to explore and exploit new fields both on land and offshore. In addition, the foundations have been laid for agreements on the refining and transport of gas and hydrocarbons.

Greece and Egypt oppose the new pact

The new agreements, however, in addition to dusting off the memorandum, have rekindled the diatribes that arose after the signing of the Turkish-Libyan pact of 2019.

The first to protest on the validity of that document were Greece and Egypt at the time. And this is because the new EEZs established between Ankara and Tripoli were going to isolate the two countries, as well as hinder, creating not a few perplexities at the level of international law of the sea, a part of the Greek waters off Crete. 

It is no coincidence that Athens and Cairo a few months later concluded their own agreement for the delimitation of their respective EEZs. An agreement the latter recalled in the past few hours by the Greek Foreign Minister, Nikos Dendias :

The pact between Greece and Egypt – he declared – made the one between Turkey and Libya null and void. Any mention or action that applies the aforementioned ‘memorandum’ will in fact be illegitimate “. 

The position of Cairo is even harder. Also because President Al Sisi has always given ample support to Fathi Bashaga and his government, considered by the Egyptians as the only one really in office in Libya. 

The outgoing government of unity in Tripoli – said the Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry – does not have the authority to conclude any international agreement or memorandum of understanding“.

Athens and Cairo are therefore willing to react and respond to the Turkish move carried out with the executive of Ddeibah. The intention seems to be to assert their reasons both in relation to the 2019 memorandum and, consequently, to the pact signed on 3 October last.

What can Italy do now

In all this, for the moment, Rome is the interested spectator. Our country potentially risks losing many contracts and many political and economic positions in place in Libya. 

Italy is going through a delicate phase of transition and post-electoral handover between two governments. So these days he is merely observing the situation closely. But it is clear that the future executive will have to take the dossier quickly in hand.

To Ankara’s activism, Italy can contrast international doubts about the validity of the Turkish-Libyan pacts and exploit other elements to recover ground. Starting from the feared scarce practical application of the new document signed by Erdogan and Ddeibah on 3 October. 

The search for new fields will in fact inevitably be made difficult by the situation in the field. With Libya controlled only minimally by forces loyal to the Tripoli government, the Turks will have little room for maneuver. 

A margin to be considered completely nil in the east of the country, where the Bashaga government has its strongholds.

The fundamental point therefore is that the new Turkish-Libyan pact resembles a propaganda spot by Erdogan in view of the presidential elections of 2023. At home, the Libyan adventure is not at all popular. 

Many are wondering the real use of spending energy and resources to help Tripoli. The goal of the Turkish president is therefore to show a very strong agreement on paper to reduce criticism and reach the voters. 

The possible practical inconsistency, however, in the long run could represent a boomerang for the interests of the “sultan”. Italy can also take this into account in trying to carve out a new important space in Libya. But he must, as mentioned, hurry.


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