The creation of a European fleet with warships that will patrol off the coast of Libya and inspect boats that are suspected of carrying weapons is a blow to Turkey and its plan to keep supporting the Muslim Brotherhood known as the Government of National Accords in the North African country.
The agreement for the start of the naval “Irini Operation” in the Mediterranean is considered by experienced diplomatic and military officials a positive development for Greek interests after Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood GNA in the Libyan capital of Tripoli made a memorandum and a new maritime map (seen below) to split Greek maritime space between themselves.
The problem with the map is that is does not adhere to the United National Convention Law of the Sea – it effectively ignores international law. The map also omits the existence of the small island of Kastelorizo to the southeast of Rhodes towards Cyprus.
According to international law, this is the true division of maritime space in the Eastern Mediterranean.
When you compare the two maps, we can see just how much Turkey ignores international law so that it can attempt to split Greek maritime, rich in oil and gas, between itself and the Muslim Brotherhood government in Tripoli.
Libya itself is in the midst of a civil war between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Philhellene Libyan National Army. Many of the officers in the LNA, including many in the navy, were trained in Greek military schools. The Muslim Brotherhood GNA however is directly funded, armed and supported by Turkey. Turkey earlier this year transferred terrorists fighting in Syria to Libya in an attempt to stop the LNA’s advances.
The LNA control most of Libya’s territory and population, but the transfer of Syrian jihadists from Syria to Libya by Turkey has slowed their advances in Tripoli.
However, Operation Irini, – from the Greek word “peace”- will stop the transfer of troops, weapons and other naval equipment that was done by sea from Turkey to strengthen the forces of Muslim Brotherhood GNA headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, who himself is a Libyan of Turkish ancestry.
Operation Irini was carefully and specifically named after a Greek word to send a message to Turkey that Europe is actively backing not only the LNA indirectly, but backing Greece in any Turkish attempts to steal Greek maritime space.
Greek Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos proudly boasted of Greece’s “substantial contribution,” as reported by Greek City Times a week ago.
The European naval operation will go on until March 31, 2021.
Although Greece may have been quiet in their handling of the Turkish-GNA aggression, it appears rather Athens was methodically, systematically, patiently and under the scrutiny of enemy radars, preparing its defense to counter Turkey’s announcement to detect hydrocarbons in Greek maritime space.
Operation Irini is designed to serve as a European shield to protect Turkey from expansionist aspirations, consolidating the EU’s presence between Greece and Libya. It envisions the creation of a European fleet of three to five frigates or other warships patrolling the sea area from Crete to the Libyan coast, with a mission to monitor the arms embargo imposed by the United Nations in Libya that Turkey has been ignoring.
The European fleet that will run between Greece-Libya-Italy-Malta will be assisted by aircraft that will monitor from the air, while the EU Satellite Center will be used for coordination. Greece has offered a frigate to the European multinational force, considering the possibility of contributing an early warning aircraft.
The warships that will take part in Operation Irini will be able to conduct, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2292 (2016), ship inspections off the coast of Libya, which are suspected of carrying weapons or related material to and from Libya. As part of operation, participating countries will be able to monitor and gather information on Libya’s illegal exports of mineral, crude and refined oil. The European fleet is also expected to be activated for the training of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy so that in the future it can monitor and police its own sea.
Turkey attempted to directly invade the Syrian province of Idlib with its military and failed earlier this year, attempted to asymmetrically invade Greece with illegal immigrants last month, and attempted to defeat the LNA using Syrian jihadists. All military adventurism has failed, but it remains to be seen if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will stubbornly continue a path of aggression and hostility despite his continued failures.
Greece has essentially outmaneuvered Turkey’s plans to steal Greek maritime space via Libya by cunningly biding its time and patience to do it via legal means with European support.