Europeans in Libya are simply Erdogan's "doormen"

Ω Vaggelis Sarakinos

A veritable cliff hanger took place off the coast of Libya, starting last Sunday, a few days after Haftar's meeting with al-Sisi and the initiative for peace by the Egyptian president, causing international concern. According to unconfirmed reports Egyptian troops are already on Libyan soil siding with Marshal Haftar, as Erdogan continues to scoff at the UN and, as it seems, Berlin in the Mediterranean and appears to be still relaying weapons to the Saraj government.

In the last few hours, information circulating on social media states that a Turkish frigate, which is said to be reinforced with surface-to-air missiles, is off Libya in order to help the forces of the… army of the Tripoli government take Sirte, a city of strategic and symbolic value, as it is the birthplace of Muammar Gaddafi.

So far, forces loyal to the Tripoli government have failed to take control of the city from Haftar's army. As of midnight on Tuesday, however, government forces (Tripoli militias, jihadists transported by Erdogan from Syria and paramilitary gangs gathered by Saraj from Libyan provinces) have launched a fierce offensive against Haftar's 604th Libyan National army (LNA) Brigade. In this offensive they are aided by Turkish unmanned aircraft (UAVs).

Α Greek-Turkish incident … almost

At the same time, another thriller was in progress with a suspicious ship sailing since Wednesday morning off Libya, accompanied by three Turkish frigates. This was the Tanzanian-flagged freighter "Cirkin", apparently heading for Libya and was suspected of carrying weapons to the north African country. In violation of the embargo imposed by the UN, of course, which was adopted by the infamous Berlin Conference, and which was supposed to lay the foundations and conditions for a political solution in Libya.

The case almost turned into a new Greek-Turkish incident, as the Italian commander of the European operation "IRINI", which has a mission to maintain the arms embargo in Libya, ordered the helicopter carried by the Greek frigate "Spetsai" to take off and carry out an inspection of the ship. The helicopter actually took off and approached the spot, calling on the suspected ship to respond to a request for consensual boarding. However, the answer came from the captain of one of the three Turkish frigates, which was not only negative, but was accompanied by a call to the Greek helicopter to leave the "Cirkin" alone, which, as he stressed, is under the protection of Turkey.

Eventually, following a new order from the European commander, the helicopter returned to the Greek frigate, while the monitoring of the Turkish ships continued by the forces of the European Operation IRINI. But the forces involved in Operation Irini are not there to monitor. Instead, their mandate, which comes from a European Union order based on UN Security Council resolutions, is to control, monitor and prevent the transfer of military equipment to Libya.

If European forces are content to monitor, it means that they have resigned and have simply become Erdogan's "gatekeepers" in Libya. Or, at best, to help NGOs transport migrants to Europe, as Austrian Chancellor Kurtz had initially complained. However, the information that the Greek frigate "Spetsai" was not only the nearest ship to the spot, but also the only one in the area, also raises questions. This is despite the fact that in order to reverse the objections of Austria and Italy, the operational field of the IRINI operation was transferred further east.

Egyptian-Libyan conflict?

Meanwhile, in the last three days, rumors have been circulating about the concentration of sizable Egyptian troops on the border with Libya, and even their presence on Libyan soil. Egypt, like the United Arab Emirates, openly supports Marshal Haftar, whose forces control most of the country, especially the eastern border with Egypt. Haftar met with Fatah al-Sisi in Cairo last week, and immediately afterwards last Saturday, the Egyptian presidency announced a new initiative for Libya, which included an elected leadership council, a ceasefire on Monday (June 8th), and withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country.

Moscow, a key player in Libya and an ally of Haftar, backed the initiative, but hours later, however, clarified that Russia and Turkey were guaranteeing a ceasefire in Libya. Apparently, as in Idlib, which Putin and Erdogan have long put on the same balance as Libya, are seeking to make the situation in the North African country a Russian-Turkish affair. But that requires, if not consensus, at least Trump's acquiescence.

On Wednesday, however, Ankara rejected the Egyptian proposal, describing it as a plan to save Marshal Khalifa Haftar after his "failure" to occupy the capital Tripoli. In fact, Turkish FM Cavusoglu spoke of a failed coup attempt from the beginning. Erdogan himself was quoted as speaking of a new era for Libya, last Monday night after a conversation with the US president. The Turkish president had claimed that there was an agreement "on some issues" with Trump, while stressing that the government of his ally Saraj would continue to fight for the capture of Sirte, as well as the Jufra air base, which is further south.

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