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Libya Suspends Energy Exploration Deal with Turkey: implications

The area comprised in the deal signed in 2019 between Libya and Turkey. Source: TRTWorld.


On January 10, a sudden decision taken by a Libyan court puzzled the international community. The court’s pronouncement decided to suspend a deal signed between the Libyan government and Turkey over the exploration of newly discovered gas deposits in the Mediterranean. In October 2022, a deal was signed between Libyan foreign minister, Najla al-Mangoush, and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. They both considered the deal a necessary step to face an uncertain situation created by the war in Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis that keeps hitting Europe. So far, the arrangement appears to be in good agreement between the two countries sharing parts of the same sea.


Nevertheless, the problem is it encroaches on their neighbors' maritime rights based on international law. Egypt and Greece were among the countries that reacted angrily to the agreement, which completely  disregards maritime and territorial waters rights. An area particularly affected by the contested deals is the portion of the Mediterranean shared by Greece and Libya close to the Greek island of Crete. In that area, the vessel, Sanco Swift, was already active west and south-west of Crete to collect seismic data under the aegis of the energy colossus ExxonMobil. The Turkey-Libya 2022 deal would therefore put Greece in a favorable position at risk as the only gate to the hydrocarbon richness of the eastern Mediterranean, as well as compound the already complex problem of territorial water delimitation among the parties involved.


And this deal was indeed the last straw, as it followed the agreement signed between Turkey and Libya in 2019 aiming delimitation of the respective territorial waters. It was signed by the Government of National Unity (GNU) and recently criticized by the eastern-based parliament. The latter maintains that the GNU lacks any structured legitimacy to conclude any sorted deal.


Like the newly signed deal, the 2019 agreement provoked sharp reactions from the international community, especially from the actors directly involved in the region: Greece, Egypt, and Cyprus. The main point of contention was once again the sheer disregard of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the delimitation of contentious territorial waters, as the portions claimed by Turkey were and remain claimed by Greece and Egypt. Moreover, the UNCLOS and the non-recognition thereof by Ankara represent the main long-standing thorny issue that still affects Greek-Turkish relations for decades.


On the other hand, the Libyan court decision appears to be a game changer and a powerful slap on Turkey—a slap that looks to have been orchestrated elsewhere. Undoubtedly, the Mediterranean and its energy richness are a temptation to many, but so are its geopolitical implications due to its strategic position.


According to some speculations, the US would like to boost energy cooperation among the countries directly interested in the region, leaving out Turkey, a country whose presence in the contested area could not be geographically justified as its coasts are far away from the area included in the 2019 deal. The fear of exclusion is another factor, contributing to enhancing Turkey’s anxiety in the region. Not coincidentally, Ankara rushed for a request that Libya and Egypt define their maritime zones, which was followed by Egypt’s unilateral declaration of its territorial waters. This produced Libya’s reaction, as the latter contested the methods used by Cairo to determine its EEZ, as they seemed to violate Libya’s continental shelf.


But this is just the tip of the iceberg for Ankara. Accordingly, all the countries involved in the area, namely Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Libya, Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, have signed agreements to delimit their EEZ. As for Greece, delimitation that involves Cyprus is considered unlawful and unilateral by Turkey, as it disregards the rights of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to determine their EEZ. Moreover, Ankara criticizes the unlawfulness of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, as it expressly excluded Turkey from it. Ankara's main obstacle is the Greece-Cyprus axis which is strongly supported both by the EU and the US. And now there are fears that the same thing will happen in Libya.


Not coincidentally, on January 13, Libya's Prime Minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, met the US Central Intelligence Agency director, William Burns, on a visit to Tripoli. According to some statements, the CIA director praised the country’s overall job for achievement on stability, growth, and a more democratic path that would ensure peaceful elections. These noble statements were, eventually, permeated by the need for more intensive energy cooperation in the area. More than a meeting, this looked like an elegant reminder that certain areas inside and outside of Europe do not have the luxury to decide their faith.


The recent decision taken by Berlin to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine is a clear example of this and a constant reminder that a higher decision-maker works diligently behind the scenes and that its interests are to be promoted and preserved. And this becomes even more imperative if these interests become contextualized within the Ukrainian war.


Two factors here are thought-provoking. The first is the need to boost energy imports to Europe to relieve a region put, willy-nilly, on the front lines of a more or less wanted war. In this regard, Turkey’s interference in the Mediterranean would dampen the EU-US process of reducing the risk of Russian presence in that area. In this regard, the US-backed Greek-Cyprus axis seems to be more cooperative.


Secondly, there is Ankara’s mediation attempt and its position between Russia, Ukraine, and the West, which acts as a constant reminder that this country needs exigence. Its capacity as a NATO member and as a middle corridor for gas supplies from the Caucasus and Central Asia makes Turkey a country, imminently handled with care. By all means that all interventions at Ankara’s expense must effectuate indirectly. And the recent Libyan court decision seems to be blatant proof of this.


But not all interventions are indirect. The recent anti-Turkey protests in Stockholm, during which the Quran was burned once again by the far-right Swedish-Danish Rasmus Paludan, furtherly disrupted the process of Sweden's accession to NATO initiated last year. Furthermore, a puppet of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was hanged in Stockholm, allegedly by PKK members, the main point of contention for Turkey in removing the veto that would allow Sweden to join NATO. As a consequence of this, a strong wave of turcophobia is sweeping the country.


As a result, this will decree the death of any possibility of accession to the defense alliance for the Scandinavian country. Another strong proof that the international community, whether it likes it or not, should consider Turkey in its calculations.


Edited By:

Andrea Umanzor



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