ANKARA: Brussels agreed on Monday to launch a new naval and air mission off the Libyan coast to enforce a UN arms embargo.
EU member countries are expected to prepare a legal text to support the mission in the eastern Mediterranean.
However, the mission will avoid migrant trafficking routes to minimize the risk of becoming a “pull factor,” as mentioned by Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump phoned his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to caution him against any intervention in Libya that would further undermine the fragile balance in the country, Judd Deere, deputy White House press secretary, said on Sunday.
“President Trump also reiterated that continued foreign interference in Libya would only serve to worsen the situation,” Deere said.
Ankara is accused of providing weapons and military assistance to Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA) by circumventing the international arms embargo.
Some experts think that the decisions should be taken as a challenge to Turkey while getting people like Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on board because Austria tried to block EU negotiations on the patrol mission, claiming that people rescued in the Mediterranean should not be taken to Europe.
The EU patrolling decision aims to revive Operation Sophia, which was launched in 2015 to combat people smuggling off the Libyan coast and to monitor a UN arms embargo on the warring parties. The operation was suspended as a naval mission last March after Italy said it would no longer take in migrants rescued at sea, and is now restricted to aerial observation.
Despite Turkish denials, there are also reports that hundreds of militants have been transferred from Syria to Libya in recent months to fight against the Libyan National Army, which controls most of eastern and southern Libya.
Ankara and the GNA signed a memorandum of military cooperation in late November, 2019. The deal was criticized by Turkish opposition parties, who claimed it violates the UN arms embargo to the war-torn country and makes Turkey part of the conflict.
However, Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya expert at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, said that the new EU initiative is unlikely to have a noticeable effect on Libya’s civil war.
“That may explain why Turkey, so far, has not complained about, or condemned, it too vocally,” he told Arab News.
Harchaoui said that Europe, particularly Italy, worries more about the risk of letting in irregular migrants than it does about war ravaging Libya further.
“This means that the new embargo-monitoring operation may be short-lived. A country like Italy can call it off if the mission ends up saving migrants and bringing them into the EU,” he said.
Brussels has long rejected Turkey’s military presence in Libya, although Ankara insists that Turkish troops are there for “coordination.”
On Jan. 7, Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, met with French, German, Italian and British foreign ministers.
“It is obvious that this makes a reference to the Turkish decision to intervene in Libya, which is something we reject and increases our worries in Libya,” he said after the meeting.