GNA signs maritime MoU with Turkey causing international controversy
On 27 November, the Government of National Accord (GNA) signed an agreement on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea with Turkey, along with a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to expand security and military cooperation. The maritime agreement seeks to extend Turkey’s maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean, though neither the GNA nor Turkish officials have provided details about the geographical boundaries or terms covered. This maritime MoU has led to rebukes and criticism from Greece, Egypt and Cyprus. Turkey is pushing to become the main natural gas hub for Europe and is competing with Cyprus and Greece for naval sovereignty over waters in the eastern Mediterranean in order to secure for access to and rights over oil and natural gas reserves in these waters by declaring an “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ) where they have the right to explore and exploit natural resources. However, because of the concave shape of the Eastern Mediterranean, there is an overlap between the areas that each country can claim.
With regards to Libya, the agreement with the GNA will likely permit Turkey to expand and share its maritime jurisdiction with Libya, allowing it to exploit any hydrocarbon reserves in the swathe of territory between north-eastern Libya and south-western Turkey. Turkey has been in discussions with the GNA over the terms of this deal for several months. In the longer term, it is likely that Turkey will see greater benefit from this maritime deal than Libya if it is upheld, but the GNA is in dire need of short-term military support.
As such, it is likely that Turkey has been able to persuade the GNA to agree to the maritime deal in return for continued or possibly increased provision of military and security support for the GNA-aligned forces currently fighting against the Libyan National Army (LNA) in Tripoli. This is vital given the LNA has been making some gains along the Tripoli frontlines in the past few weeks and the LNA’s aerial capacities, supported by the UAE, have dominated that of the GNA-aligned forces, supported by Turkey. Turkey also has broader strategic and economic interests in Libya, with over $19 billion-worth of contracts in progress in Libya. The GNA-Turkey maritime agreement is likely to deepen international fault lines and divisions with regards to Libya in multiple arenas, including NATO, the EU and the UN Security Council. This is likely to increase the proxy warfare dynamics of the Libyan conflict in the short term.