Ankara searches for Moscow support for Libya cause

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to talk with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on phone over the latest developments in Libya. (AP)
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Updated 11 December 2019

Ankara searches for Moscow support for Libya cause

  • Expert doubts that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will get full support from his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for his Libya cause, as Moscow’s main focus now is Syria

ANKARA: Following the meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday over the maritime delimitation agreement between Turkey and Libya, Turkey is trying to use other leverage to get support for its claims in the region as Brussels expressed solidarity toward its members, Greece and Cyprus.

On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to talk with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on phone over the latest developments in Libya and the situation of Libyan National Army Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar because he said the country risks turning into “another Syria.”

However, Moscow and Ankara are falling increasingly on opposite sides in Libya. On Nov. 27, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the deal between Turkey and the Government of National Accord of Libya (GNA) “gave rise to claims about Turkey’s attempts to legalize its military support for the government in Tripoli, including by way of a blatant violation of the arms embargo.”

In an interview with state-run TRT on Monday evening, Erdogan also announced the likelihood of a joint hydrocarbon exploration between Turkey and the GNA after both sides ratify the controversial deal on maritime boundaries that allegedly challenges Greek sovereignty.

He also said Turkey may send troops to Libya, if the GNA request them.

Dimitar Bechev, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Councils’s Eurasia Center, doubts that Erdogan will get full support from Putin for his Libya cause. “Russia’s main focus now is Syria,” he told Arab News.

On Dec. 8, Commander of Libya’s Navy Admiral Faraj Al-Mahdawi, who studied at the Hellenic Naval Academy — like many other Libyan naval officers — promised to set Tripoli free and to demolish Turkey’s dreams.

While the EU’s meeting of foreign ministers was being held, an Italian naval frigate surprisingly docked in Larnaca, Cyprus, as a sign of collaboration. This was the third Italian naval visit in the last couple of months.

In his interview, Erdogan said that Turkey would get a new drilling ship to continue its activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, adding that the country’s operations may extend to the Black Sea or international waters.

But he claimed that “other international actors cannot conduct exploration operations in these areas Turkey depicted with this accord without getting permission. Greek Cyprus, Egypt, Greece and Israel cannot launch a gas transmission line without first receiving permission from Turkey.”

According to this perspective, the deal with the GNA gives the green light to Turkey for carrying out drilling on Libya’s continental shelf with Tripoli’s approval.

Despite being NATO allies, Greece and Turkey are two neighbors divided by a several decades-old problems. They have come to the brink of war several times, and have clashing over drilling rights and some disputed islets in the Aegean.

Erdogan termed Greece’s expulsion of the Libyan envoy an “international scandal” and said Athens will pay the price for its actions internationally.

As a retaliation to Turkey’s activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, the EU has recently halted talks on air transport agreement and urged the European Investment Bank to review its lending scheme to the country, which started accession negotiations in 2005.

Brussels also warned that additional “targeted measures” could be put on the agenda to further punish Ankara over its “illegal” maritime activities.

“A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) ostensibly delineating maritime borders between Turkey and Libya causes serious concern,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters after the EU meeting on Monday.

In a surprise move on Tuesday, Greece, defining the Turkey-Libya maritime deal as a threat to regional stability, lodged objections with the UN regarding the deal.

However, as Turkey is not party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), this mechanism could be a symbolic attempt to draw the attention of the international community.

Gabriel Mitchell, an expert on energy and Eastern Mediterranean from Virginia Tech University, thinks the UN may deliver statements about the Turkey-Libya maritime deal.

“Turkey will likely ignore an international legal decision on the matter. Over the last decade, Turkey has not been a participant in regional energy and maritime initiatives. Because it has not received an invitation, Ankara hopes to use this MoU as a means to forcibly reenter Eastern Mediterranean geopolitics,” he told Arab News.

According to Mitchell, even the notion of Turkey sending troops to Libya will draw strong warnings from many in the international community, including NATO member states.


Daesh tries to stage comeback amid rising US-Iran tensions

Updated 50 sec ago

Daesh tries to stage comeback amid rising US-Iran tensions

  • American troops in Iraq had to pause their operations against Daesh for nearly two weeks amid the tensions

BEIRUT: The Daesh group’s self-styled “caliphate” across parts of Iraq and Syria seemed largely defeated last year, with the loss of its territory, the killing of its founder in a US raid and an unprecedented crackdown on its social media propaganda machine.

But tensions between the US and Iran and the resulting clash over the US military presence in the region provide a comeback opportunity for the extremist group, whose remnants have been gradually building up a guerrilla campaign over the past year, experts say.

American troops in Iraq had to pause their operations against Daesh for nearly two weeks amid the tensions. From the other side, Iranian-backed Iraqi militiamen who once focused on fighting the militants have turned their attention to evicting US troops from the Middle East.

In the meantime, Daesh group sleeper cells intensified ambushes in Iraq and Syria in the past few weeks, killing and wounding dozens of their opponents in both countries. Activists and residents say the attacks have intensified since the US killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a Jan. 3 drone strike at Baghdad’s airport.

It is not clear whether the uptick is related to the repercussions that followed from the strike, and it is possible some of the attacks had been planned before Soleimani’s killing. US officials deny seeing any particular increase in Daesh activities. “They haven’t taken advantage of it, as far as we can see,” said James Jeffrey, the State Department envoy to the international coalition fighting Daesh.

HIGHLIGHTS

• On Jan. 14, Daesh launched a cross border attack from Syria into Iraq, killing an Iraqi officer.

• A day later, Daesh attacked Iraqi force in Salaheddine, killing two soldiers and wounding five.

• Two days later, an Iraqi intelligence major was killed in a car bomb north of Baghdad.

Mervan Qamishlo, a spokesman for Syria’s US-backed Kurdish-led force, said the intensification of Daesh attacks began even earlier, since October, when Turkey began a military operation against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

Still, the militants clearly gained at least temporary breathing room as the killing of Soleimani, along with a senior Iraqi militia leader, brought Iran and the US to the brink of all-out war and outraged Iraqis, who considered the strike a flagrant breach of sovereignty.

On Jan. 5, Iraq’s Parliament called for the expulsion of the 5,200 US troops from the country who have been there since 2014 on a mission to train Iraqi forces and assist in the fight against Daesh. The US-led coalition then put the fight against Daesh on hold to focus on protecting its troops and bases. It said last week that it had resumed those operations after a 10-day halt.

“This tension will for sure help Daesh, as all forces fighting it become busy with other matters,” warned Abdullah Suleiman Ali, a Syrian researcher who focuses on terror groups.

Among other things, he said Iran-US tensions help give Daesh the opportunity to restructure as its new leader, Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurayshi, strengthens his grip. Al-Qurayshi was announced in the post after longtime leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was killed by a US raid in Syria in October.

“The day the American-Iranian clash began, Daesh started intensifying its attacks,” said Rami Aburrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor.

On Jan. 14, Daesh launched a cross-border attack from Syria into Iraq, killing an Iraqi officer. A day later, Daesh fighters attacked an Iraqi force in the central Salaheddine region, killing two soldiers and wounding five. Two days later, an Iraqi intelligence major was killed in a car bomb north of Baghdad.

One of the deadliest attacks occurred in Syria on Jan. 14, when Daesh fighters stole some 2,000 cattle from a village near the eastern town of Mayadeen. One of the four shepherds that own the cattle informed authorities, and a Syrian regime force was sent to the area, where they were met by Daesh fire.

As the forces returned to their base, Daesh gunmen laid an ambush, killing 11 troops and pro-regime fighters as well as two shepherds.

Daesh published photos showing bodies of soldiers said to have been killed in the attack, along with a destroyed armored vehicle and an overturned truck.

On the same day, seven shepherds were found shot dead west of the eastern city of Deir Ezzor. On Jan. 4, 21 shepherds were found shot in the back of their heads, their hands were tied behind their backs.

Dozens of members of the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian democratic Forces have been killed over the past months in attacks claimed by Daesh as well.

With the painful strikes, Daesh is “taking advantage to boost its influence” and send a message to their supporters that they are still strong, said Omar Abu Laila, an activist from Deir Ezzor now based in Europe.

“Some civilians don’t dare leave their homes after sunset because of fear of Daesh,” Abu Laila said.

The group is also trying to restore its presence on social media and the Internet — a key component to its ability to raise financial support from abroad and recruit new fighters.

Daesh members and supporters have for years sown fear and projected power with the grisly videos they released on social media showing beheadings, amputations and victims burned to death or thrown from buildings.

In recent weeks, European authorities, coordinated by Europol, have shut down thousands of Daesh propaganda platforms and communication channels in an unprecedented crackdown. In particular, the crackdown forced Daesh’s news agency and other channels off the Telegram text messaging system, the group’s primary outlet since 2015.

“The Europol campaign of November had a massive impact on Daesh support networks on Telegram,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, a terrorism researcher at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada.

Since then, the extremists have shifted to other messaging platforms including the Russia-based TamTam, Canada-based Hoop Messenger and BCM Messenger. They also tried to get back on Twitter using hacked accounts, Amarasingam said.

So far, those efforts have not been very successful as international authorities work to chase them down on those outlets as well.

“None of this is really matching the presence they had on Telegram from 2015 onwards,” Amarasingam said.