Tensions mount after Greece’s expulsion of Libyan envoy

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias made the statement amid the Turkey-Libya accord. (File/AFP)
Updated 07 December 2019

Tensions mount after Greece’s expulsion of Libyan envoy

  • There are fears that the entry of a Turkish drillship could trigger an armed conflict between Turkey and Greece in an area Athens claims to be its own exclusive economic zone

ANKARA: The showdown between Turkey and Greece over Ankara’s controversial “sea grab” deal with Libya on Friday looked set to escalate after Athens was slammed for its “outrageous” expulsion of the Libyan envoy.

Tripoli’s ambassador to Greece, Mohamed Younis A.B. Menfi, was ordered to leave the country in the wake of his interim government’s signing of a maritime border agreement last month handing Turkey control over a huge area of the eastern Mediterranean stretching from its southern coast to North Africa.

The Turkish Parliament has since approved the accord which gives Turkey lucrative rights to drill for gas and oil in areas that include the island of Crete’s territorial waters. Ankara condemned the Greek decision to expel Menfi. “Had they asked us, we could have given a copy of the maritime deal to Greece. They didn’t. This is outrageous,” said Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Following Menfi’s dismissal, attention has turned to the Turkish Ambassador to Greece Burak Ozugergin, who last Thursday was summoned to Athens to explain the maritime delimitation deal.

Greece has been pushing to see full details of the agreement, and the whole crisis has been further heightened by Cyprus’ petitioning of the International Court of Justice in a bid to safeguard its offshore mineral rights. Egypt is also furious about the Turkish-Libyan move.

Despite the uproar, Turkey’s Energy Minister Fatih Donmez announced that his country would begin oil and gas drilling once the deal had been ratified by both sides. But Greece has slammed the move as a violation of its sovereign rights.

Ankara already has deep disagreements with Athens and Nicosia over the disputed territorial waters surrounding the divided island of Cyprus. Turkey has deployed drilling ships to Turkish Cypriot waters four times, sparking condemnation from not only Greece and Cyprus, but also the EU which has warned Turkey it may impose punitive measures if it does not renounce its drilling activities in the region.

However, there are fears that the entry of a Turkish drillship, escorted by naval vessels, could trigger an armed conflict between Turkey and Greece in an area Athens claims to be its own exclusive economic zone. Greece has also sent military reinforcements to Crete naval base.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met on the sidelines of the NATO leaders’ summit in London on Wednesday, but without agreeing any solution to the crisis.

Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said the EU remained cautious over punishing Turkey because it feared an influx of migrants and refugees which EU states have been paying Turkey to deal with  since the 2015 refugee crises.

“For many EU governments, trade with Turkey and ending migration is more important than standing up for issues in the Mediterranean,” he told Arab News.

“It appears that Greece and Turkey will now have some discussions about the Libya deal and that Turkey, having appeared to ask for influence over a huge swathe of water, will then appear to ‘give’ Greece something by not demanding the whole of what it wanted. This is the general Turkish strategy, just like in northern Syria with the safe zone.”

According to Frantzman, Turkey understood how to use pressure against European powers.

“It seeks to use trade with the UK and Germany to get what it wants and has sought to even use refugees and migrants as a tool to get European powers to agree to its demands. Surely it will then use this to confront Greek concerns about the Libya deal,” he said.

Trump: Mideast peace plan likely rolled out in days

Updated 38 min 59 sec ago

Trump: Mideast peace plan likely rolled out in days

JERUSALEM: President Donald Trump said Thursday that he’ll likely release the long-awaited White House Mideast peace plan before his meeting early next week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival Benny Gantz.
“It’s a great plan. It’s a plan that really would work,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One en route to a Republican Party meeting in Florida.
He said he was surprised that both Netanyahu and Gantz were willing to take a break from campaigning for the March 2 elections to join him Tuesday in Washington.
“They both would like to do the deal. They want to see peace,” Trump said. “Look, Israel wants peace, Palestinians want peace. They all want peace. Not everyone wants to say it.”
He said his administration has talked briefly to the Palestinians, who have rejected the administration’s peace plan before it even comes out.
“We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time,” Trump said. “And they have a lot of incentive to do it. I’m sure they maybe will react negatively at first, but it’s actually very positive to them.”
Vice President Mike Pence announced the invitation for Netanyahu and Gantz to visit during at a meeting with the prime minister in Jerusalem after addressing an international forum Thursday on the Holocaust. He said that at Netanyahu’s request, the invitation was also issued to Gantz, a former army chief.
The plan is expected to strongly favor Israel, and is unlikely to garner any international support if it is seen as undermining the prospect of a two-state solution.
“We have had no better friend than President Trump,” Netanyahu said. “With this invitation, I think that the president is seeking to give Israel the peace and security that it deserves.”
The Palestinians rejected Trump’s peace efforts after he recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy there in May 2018. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war and annexed, to be their capital.
“If this deal is announced with these rejected formulas, the leadership will announce a series of measures in which we safeguard our legitimate rights, and we will demand Israel assume its full responsibilities as an occupying power,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
He appeared to be referring to oft-repeated threats to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. That would force Israel to resume responsibility for providing basic services to millions of Palestinians.
“We warn Israel and the US administration from crossing the red lines,” Abu Rdeneh said.
Israel’s Channel 12 TV, citing Israeli officials, said the plan is expected to be extremely favorable toward Israel and offer it control over large parts of the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians seek the entire territory, which was also captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future independent state. Most of the international community supports the Palestinian position.
Netanyahu has said he plans to annex the Jordan Valley as well as Jewish settlements across the West Bank, which would all but extinguish any possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has tried to make that the cornerstone of his campaign for reelection following unprecedented back-to-back elections last year that left him in a virtual tie with Gantz, with neither able to cobble together a ruling coalition.
The deadlock was deepened by Netanyahu’s indictment last year on serious charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from three long-running corruption investigations. Netanyahu has asked Israel’s parliament to grant him immunity.
Next week’s meeting could produce an awkward scene. Gantz has made Netanyahu’s indictment the focus of his campaign to oust the prime minister. And his Blue and White party is leading an effort in parliament to block Netanyahu’s immunity request before the election. At the same time, they will be joined by an impeached president who is being tried in the Senate.
The US was believed to be holding back on releasing the peace plan until Israel had a permanent government. Those calculations may have changed as the deadlock in Israeli politics looks to be further prolonged.
Trump may also be looking for a boost from evangelical and pro-Israel supporters as the Senate weighs whether to remove him from office after he was impeached last month, and as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.
Pence was among dozens of world leaders in Jerusalem on Thursday for the World Holocaust Forum. Many of the participants, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, also paid visits to the Palestinians in the West Bank.
A Palestinian official said Abbas asked the visiting French and Russian presidents to support the Palestinian position when the plan is published.
“He asked them to refuse and act against any Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing closed meetings.
While the plan is expected to be friendly to Israel, it could still face opposition from Netanyahu’s hard-line partners.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultranationalist Yamina party, called Trump a “true friend” of Israel and said the country likely stands before a “historic opportunity.” But he said his party would not allow the transfer of any land to Palestinian control or for a Palestinian state to be established.