By John Solomou
Nicosia [Cyprus], October 10 (ANI): A controversial memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed last Monday between the government of Turkey and Libya's Tripoli-based interim government concerning the exploration of hydrocarbons by mixed Turkish-Libyan companies in Libya's territorial waters has angered East Mediterranean countries, particularly Greece, Egypt and Cyprus and it poses a serious threat to stability in the eastern Mediterranean.
Libya's rival eastern-based government and the Libyan Parliament also rejected the deal. Greece, Egypt and Cyprus view the deal as a clear infringement of the economic rights in an oil-rich part of the Mediterranean, which under international law belongs to them.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Libyan counterpart Najla Mangoush signed the MoU in Tripoli, the capital of Libya's internationally recognized government. The Memorandum follows the maritime accord between the two countries reached in 2019 with the former Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
Although the details of the Memorandum have not yet been disclosed, analysts say that Ankara's aim is to use the accord as the legal basis - even though this is generally disputed - to send Turkish exploration ships into waters south of the Greek island of Crete and start drilling in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Greece, something that will certainly ratchet up tension between Athens and Ankara.
Former Chief of Staff of the Turkish Naval Forces, Admiral Cihat Yaci, who is credited by Turkish media as the architect of the maritime agreement between Turkey and Libya, says that the area covered by the MoU includes the richest hydrocarbon deposits in the world worth about 30 trillion dollars.
It should be noted that the Turkish-Libyan deal that was signed in 2019, on which the current MoU is based, ignored Greece's claims to exclusive economic zones, under international law, particularly those of Crete, the largest Greek island, which is home to Greek and US military bases, as well as of the islands of Rhodes and Kastellorizo.
Greece and Egypt challenged the legitimacy of last Monday's deal, considering it to be the culmination of Ankara's efforts over the years to establish itself in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Greek government emphatically said it had sovereign rights in the area that it intended to defend "with all legal means, in full respect of the international law of the sea."
Egypt's Foreign Ministry said that the "outgoing government of unity" in Tripoli does not have the authority to conclude any international agreements or memoranda of understanding."
The European Union also reacted to the preliminary agreement, repeating its opposition to the 2019 Turkey-Libya accord stressing that "the MoU infringes upon the sovereign rights of third states, does not comply with the Law of the Sea and cannot produce any legal consequences for third states."
Responding to these statements, Mevlut Cavusoglu said: "Third countries do not have the right to interfere with the agreements signed by two sovereign countries. It doesn't matter what they think."
It is worth mentioning, however, that Ankara has reached the deal with only one of the two governments vying for control of the Libyan capital Tripoli. The MoU was signed with the government of the Tripoli-based Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah - while the rival eastern-based government of Premier Fathi Bashagha, who is backed by Parliament, promised to scuttle the deal, saying that the government in Tripoli had no authority to make international agreements. Bashagha stressed that the deal posed a threat to stability and peace in Libya.
Aguila Saleh, the Speaker of the Libyan Parliament, in a letter to the United Nations said the agreement was illegal because the mandate of the Tripoli-based interim government had expired last December.
Libya has experienced successive civil wars since the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi by a Nato-led intervention in 2011 and is currently divided between Russian and Turkish zones of influence.
In 2019 Turkey played a crucial role in the conflict when it helped the Government of National Accord (GNA) defeat the attack of the eastern Libyan Forces led by retired General Khalifa Haftar against the Libyan capital.
The GNA government in exchange for the support given by the Turkish troops sent to Libya by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed in 2019 a Maritime Boundary Treaty, establishing an Exclusive Economic Zone in the Mediterranean between the two countries, with the aim of exploiting energy resources.
That agreement was roundly condemned by the rival Libyan Government, the European Union, the USA, Greece, Egypt, Russia, Cyprus, almost all European countries, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Arab League as a violation of the International Law of the Sea and the Skhirat Agreement, which prohibits the Libyan Prime Minister to sign agreements without the consent of all cabinet members.
Reacting to the treaty, Greece and Egypt signed in 2020 a pact demarcating their exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean, which the diplomats of the two countries said it nullified the Turkish-Libyan accord.
In a joint news conference given in Cairo yesterday, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, discussed the memorandum signed by Turkey and the Abdul Hamid Dbeibah government.
Sameh Shoukry called for the U.N. to take "a clear position" on the legitimacy of Dbeibah's government, saying the international body "should not keep silent," while Dendias criticized the deal as illegal and said such agreements were a threat to regional stability.
Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya expert with the Royal United Services Institute, was quoted by ABC news as saying that the deal has "little legal value and was meant to provoke Greece...They are part of the politics of hyper-nationalistic assertiveness that a weak, unpopular Erdogan seeks to cultivate as he goes into the June 2023 elections."
Al Monitor Journalist Fehim Tastekin, writing about the deal, points out that the agreement has "fanned the internal and external rivalries haunting the conflict-torn country.... And with the critical reactions of the European Union and the United States, Turkey appears to be bracing for even stronger headwinds in the eastern Mediterranean." (ANI)