The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is promoting an Arab-European partnership to avoid permanent Turkish influence in the Mediterranean after the nation presided over by Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been meddling in the conflicts in Libya and Syria for months.
Europe has been more inclined to ally itself with Arab countries, most of which are working to stop Turkish military intervention in Middle Eastern and North African wars.
Countries such as Italy and France saw the latest moves by Egypt and the UAE as an important need to give Arab legitimacy to the coalition that is trying to confront Turkey. The Ottoman country is participating in the war in Syria under the pretext of persecuting the Kurdish ethnic group, which it accuses of carrying out terrorist acts in southern Turkey; to this end, it has made incursions into the north of the Arab country across the Turkish-Syrian border to establish checkpoints around the province of Idlib, the last stronghold of the insurgency fighting the regime of Bachar al-Asad. A government that argues military action in order to put an end to the pockets of jihadist terrorism in this last area of Syrian territory that remains to be taken by the official forces, which are supported above all by Vladimir Putin's Russia. Turkey is facing this Russian-Syrian alliance with the presence of its army and mercenaries from former affiliates of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda or Daesh, as reported by several media for months. The Turkish troops entered Syria with the approval of the United States after Donald Trump's government withdrew troops from Syrian soil, abandoning the Kurdish-Syrians from the People's Protection Units (YPG), included in the opposing Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which turned out to be key for the US in the defeat inflicted on Daesh in Al-Baghouz a year ago.
Libya is also a scenario for the troops of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In November 2019, the Turkish leader sealed an agreement with Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj's Government of National Accord (GNA), granting him military support in his fight against the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Marshal Khalifa Haftar. In addition to this support, the two leaders agreed on the sharing of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) for oil and gas exploitation in Mediterranean waters that conflicted with the maritime borders of Greek islands, provoking Greece's international outcry.
In addition, Turkey has also been involved in water drilling in Cyprus, which has been denounced as "illegal" by the European country. This further increases the regional tension ignited by the conflict on the island between the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot south. The island was split in two in 1974, when Turkey intervened in response to the coup d'état that sought to annex the island to Greece, and the conflict continues today. The Republic of Cyprus controls the south and it is the only entity recognized internationally, being also a member of the European Union (EU) since 2004; whereas the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was proclaimed in the north, only recognized by Turkey, the country on which it depends for its subsistence.
On this point, the Greek Cypriot Government has in recent years initialled agreements with Egypt, Israel and Lebanon to delimit its own EEZ, under which it has already issued a number of exploration and drilling licences. Meanwhile, from the Turkish Cypriot side, their rights are considered to be violated by not being taken into consideration when sealing such important international covenants. The Executive aligned with the Greek power pointed out that the benefits of these gas agreements will be passed on to the Turkish Cypriots once the reunification agreement is reached, something that seems to be very far away since all attempts to do so have failed so far. In this scenario, the EU condemned on May 16 the operations of the Turkish drilling ship Yavuz, operating in Cyprus since April.
The armed conflict in the North African country is a power game between foreign countries. On the one hand, the GNA is supported by Turkey, Qatar and Italy; while on the other hand, the LNA is supported by Russia, France, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain. A dispute of interests over the Libyan nation that is relevant for its geostrategic position in the Mediterranean arc and for its oil reserves. These oil fields are largely controlled by Khalifa Haftar, who took over the two main oilfields of Sharara and Al-Fil some time ago and who dominates a large part of Libyan territory despite recent military setbacks, such as those of Sorman or Sabratha, after the GNA was mainly supported by Turkey, which sent a large military contingent and militia groups made up of Syrian pro-Turkish fighters attached to organisations with jihadist links, coming from the war in Syria and working for salary.
It is precisely Cairo and Abu Dhabi that have always shown their open support for Marshal Haftar's army. "We support the LNA and we will not abandon it," Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said last December. In April, the Emirates also praised the LNA's efforts to confront extremist militias in Libya.
The LNA, which acts together with the other eastern government in Tobruk, justifies the war by the need to end the focus on Tripoli, identified as a refuge for radical terrorists and the headquarters of the GNA, which denounces the action of Haftar's forces as a genuine coup d'état against the established government of Sarraj, internationally recognised by the United Nations since 2016.
Both Syria and Libya are very interested in its strategic location and its important oil, coveted by many powers. Hence, the necessary moves are being made to ally against the belligerent and expansionist position of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey.
For weeks now, the alliance of countries that want to join forces against Turkish activity in the Mediterranean has been strengthened. A coalition formed in the first instance by Greece, Cyprus, UAE, France and Egypt aimed at halting the progress of the country chaired by Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the Mediterranean Sea, currently projected on Libya, Syria and the waters around Cyprus and Greece mainly. The coalition against the Turkish position rejects this strong interference in Syria, Libya and the jurisdictional waters of Cyprus and Greece and it seems that there is a great rapprochement between the Arab sphere and important European powers to curb Ottoman aspirations.
In this sense, Tariq Fahmy, a professor of political science at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor, “The five-party alliance succeeded in achieving its first goal that is to raise Turkey’s concerns, which was evident in the Turkish Foreing Ministry’s statement that attacked each of the countries party to the alliance.” He also stressed “France’s participation in the alliance is of paramount importance, since it is seen as an EU power, which could contribute to imposing expected sanctions on Turkey in order to protect Cyprus from Turkish violations." Fahmy added, “France will play an important role in the alliance because it is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and thus can veto any decision in favor of Turkish moves in Libya.”
Fahmy noted that France gives further impetus to the new alliance, as it is part of the EU naval mission, dubbed Irini, launched in April to enforce an arms embargo on Libya “and stop Turkey from sending arms to the GNA to fight the LNA.”
It should be recalled that, despite the UN's call for a cessation of hostilities in all open wars, including the Libyan and Syrian wars, on the occasion of the current health crisis of COVID-19 disease, all ceasefire proposals that have been made in recent months continue to be violated; including the one reached in the face of Libya's civil war at the last conference in Berlin in January this year, where Khalifa Haftar and Fayez Sarraj were seen after a long time and where a cessation of hostilities was agreed, which has subsequently not been respected.
At the beginning of May, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar had asked the parties to Irini's naval mission to reconsider their support for the LNA. In the meantime, the Turkish state news agency Anadolu published a report on May 10th in which France was singled out for avoiding Turkish military support for the GNA. In July 2019, the GNA's interior minister, Fathi Bashagha, accused France of sending troops to Libya to support Haftar's LNA in its offensive on Tripoli.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his support for the LNA’s fight against terrorism during a March 9 meeting with Hifter in Paris. “The continuous Turkish violations in Libya and the Mediterranean will probably cause the alliance to become militarized and form a joint military force to protect the interests of the involved countries and to step up security, strategic and information coordination against Turkey,” Fahmy said.
For his part, analyst Hassan al-Hassi told Al-Monitor that there will be more associations against Turkey and noted that “Egypt is the guarantor of the continued cohesion of said alliance to preserve its national security on the border with Libya against the Turkish movements, especially following the recent defeats of the LNA."
It should also be remembered that the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi along with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, already reiterated his rejection of “external interference” in the Libyan conflict, which he branded as “illegal”.
Al-Sisi stressed that Egypt’s position in the Libyan conflict is “to put a limit on illegal external interference (…) they threaten security and stability in the Middle East and the Mediterranean”. He also stressed that Egypt is working to “recover the institutional pillars of the Libyan state and end the chaos and the expansion of criminal groups and terrorist militias” in Libya.
For its part, Turkey will continue talks with Russia to reach a lasting ceasefire in Libya, Ankara’s foreign minister Mevlut Çavusoglu said recently during a joint press conference alongside his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif.
Mevlut Çavusoglu said that the presidents of both Turkey and Russia have agreed to continue working together to maintain a peaceful environment in the region. "For a lasting ceasefire in Libya … and to plan detailed steps that are going to be taken after the ceasefire, we have decided that it’ll be better for everyone involved to continue discussions on a technical level". "The two countries’ deputy ministers will continue contacts and talks in the period ahead. Minister-level talks will be held at a later date,” Çavusoglu stated last week, as reported by the Middle East Monitor.