Does the new EU operation in Libya have a future?
Since April 1, the European Union launched a new mission in the Mediterranean Sea to monitor the implementation of the UN arms embargo on Libya under the name IRINI. In addition, the mission will also carry out secondary tasks to monitor and collect information on the illegal export of crude oil and petroleum products from Libya.
The Turkish-Libyan agreements on maritime navigation and security signed in November 2019 caused a serious destabilization of the situation in the Mediterranean, and now some European and other regional states have begun diplomatic and military measures to minimize the negative consequences of such an move by Ankara and Tripoli.
Turkish-Libyan agreements also accelerated the development of regional diplomatic ties between European countries. For example, the defense ministers of France and Greece announced a decision to sign a large-scale defense and security agreement in the months following their meeting in Athens on February 24, 2020. The Parliament of Greece on January 30, 2020 approved an updated defense agreement with the United States, allowing US forces to use Greek military facilities, including air bases in Larisa and Stefanovikio.
The Ministers of Defense of Cyprus and Jordan agreed on the activities for the current year and signed a program of bilateral cooperation between the ministries of defense, providing for joint exercises with the participation of special forces of both countries. In addition, the Minister of Defense of Cyprus Angelides revealed his country’s plans to acquire weapons systems or technology from Israel, France and the United States. Angelides also confirmed the order for French Mistral air-to-air missiles, as well as anti-ship missiles worth about 240 million euros.
Greece, which is now an ally of Khalifa Haftar, considers the main goal of the new operation to curb the facts of arms smuggling. Rome, for its part, continues to support the government in Tripoli, especially given the failure of Italians to find common ground with Haftar. In other words, the format of the EU operation itself is very fragile and could end at any moment due to Italian-Greek differences in tactics.
The UN expert group on Libya submitted a report in December 2019 that revealed numerous shipments of military equipment by the Turkish authorities, companies and individuals in violation of UNSC resolution 1970. In particular, on February 3 this year EU ships blocked the exit of the Bana bulk carrier, flying the Lebanese flag, transporting armored vehicles to Libya under the escort of a Turkish frigate. The cargo included tanks, howitzers, machine guns and air defense systems.
This is a deliberate appearance on the Libyan coast of the Turkish Navy. Turkish ships plying along the coast of Libya shell cities in the country. One of their warships struck El Ajaylat. The LNA command believes that the target of the strike could be the al-Ouatia air force base under its control. Turkish frigates not only actively participate in hostilities, but also constantly accompany ships with cargoes of weapons for the PNS. How in such circumstances are the European Navy going to control compliance with the arms embargo? Engage in clashes with a NATO country? This circumstance makes the whole idea with a new operation a fiction. And expensive.
Will the new EU operation radically change the situation in Libya itself? It is very doubtful, since the main factors that make such a situation explosive remain unchanged. First of all, the impossibility of a peaceful solution without changing the main actors of the intra-Libyan confrontation and changing the position of foreign sponsors of the warring parties.
The new EU operation is more related to the formation of Turkey’s military response to its claim to a gas-rich offshore shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean. Only on this issue is the position in the EU really consolidated. And the contradictions in the rest make the attempts of the Europeans to establish an arms embargo in advance a disastrous event. And the point is not only that in addition to maritime borders, there are also land borders, through which there is also a significant flow of arms deliveries to Libya.