The European Union is preparing a new naval and air mission off the Libyan coast to support the enforcement of a UN arms embargo. An agreement in principle was reached by member governments in Brussels on Monday. There was initial objections voiced by Austria, Italy and Hungary over the possibility that the operation could end up attracting migrants and enabling a greater number of them to reach Europe. The EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell compromised with the promise that the ships would be withdrawn if they start to encourage migrants to make the dangerous crossing from North Africa to Europe.
Weapons have been pouring into Libya despite a UN arms embargo being in place. With no methods of enforcement supporting it, the embargo has been ridiculed, and disregard. Even UN deputy special envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams described the arms embargo as a joke over the weekend. With the EU stepping in, there is a chance of enforcing the embargo more stringently in the coming months.
The new mission will be known as Operation EU Active Surveillance. It will replace Operation Sophia which was set up in 2015 to combat human-trafficking, and prevent heavy losses of life at sea during the height of the European Migration Crisis. Sophia was suspended in March of 2019 when the Italian government threatened to veto the entire operation. The new mission will take place mostly in the Eastern Mediterranean where the arms smuggling routes are located. This is a considerable distance away from the routes most migrants have taken on their journeys north to Europe.
Yesterday in Washington the House of Representatives voted to end the thirty-two year old US arms embargo on Cyprus. The move came as part of the annual defense authorization bill, which has already made it through the Senate. Later in the afternoon the House passed a compromise foreign aid package that increases security aid for Cyprus, and censures Turkey for its oil, and natural gas exploration activities off the coast of Cyprus. The Turkish foreign ministry responded with a statement warning that the US move “will have no outcome other than hampering efforts towards a settlement on the island and creating a dangerous escalation.” US-Turkish relations are at their lowest point in years and threaten to deteriorate further as a result of Turkey’s activities in Libya, Cyprus, and in the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The settlement mentioned in the foreign ministry’s statement refers to the fact Cyprus has been a divided island since 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a coup backed by the Greek government. Cyprus has been gaining international attention recently as oil, and gas exploration off its coast threatens to bring about a new crisis. Turkey has been at odds with Greece, Cyprus, and Israel since signing an agreement with Libya that claims extensive areas of sea between the two nations for Turkey. This deal violates international law, and undercuts claims made by Greece, and Cyprus. On Monday, a Turkish UAV landed in northern Cyprus, known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This comes after an Israeli research vessel was intercepted in Cypriot waters by Turkish warships and escorted out of the area.
The deal between Turkey and Libya has raised tensions in the region. If the Libyan government collapses it will be interesting to see how Ankara responds, and how it will affect the oil and natural gas scramble now going on in the Eastern Med.