From Libya to Syria, French-Turkish Interests Collide

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Friday that Turkey is still waiting for an apology from France over a naval standoff last month in the Mediterranean Sea.

To recap, an incident happened between the navy forces of Turkey and France, two NATO allies, in the Mediterranean on June 10. Paris accused a Turkish navy of “harassing a French warship on a NATO mission.” The French defense ministry alleged that Turkish frigates were “extremely aggressive” toward the French warship. When the French warship wanted to check a Turkish vessel in an attempt to see whether it was smuggling arms to Libya, the vessel did not cooperate and refused to say where it was going, according to French officials.

While France claims that the Turkish ship switched off its tracking system and masked its ID number, Turkey, denying the accusation, said that the French warship was at fault as it did not establish communication with the Turkish vessel.

Bringing up the incident and complaining about Turkey during a meeting of NATO defense chiefs, French Armed Forces Minister asked the Alliance to investigate the incident. Although NATO started an investigation right after that, France has yet to submit technical data to support its claims. During a conference at Istanbul’s Bogazici University, Akar said, “We still expect an apology from our French allies. We will not allow them to close (this incident) and will follow it until the end.”

As is known, the relations between Turkey and France, two NATO allies, were strained as they took different positions on the Libyan crisis. This incident between Turkey and France was the latest flare-up, but the tension between the two countries is nothing new.

Since France is actively supporting the YPG, the outlawed PKK’s offshoot in Syria, Turkish-French relations were already tense. After Turkey’s intervention in Libya following Ankara’s military deal with the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), the rift between Turkey and France, which is supporting putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a war criminal, became apparent in Libya as well.

In addition to France’s groundless accusations over the incident in the Mediterranean, French President Emmanuel Macron went further and said last month that France would not tolerate Turkey’s military intervention in Libya. While Paris has a big role in perpetuating Libya’s chaos by supporting a warlord since the beginning, Macron added that Ankara is playing a “dangerous game” in the war-torn country.

Ankara quickly slammed Macron’s remarks in a written statement issued by the spokesman of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Hami Aksoy. The French president’s words “can only be explained as the eclipse of reason,” as Turkey’s support to the legitimate government of Libya is “in line with the relevant U.N. resolutions,” the statement said.

Sources in Ankara say that Turkey is not surprised by France’s fury as Ankara has changed the course of events on the ground in Libya through its support to the legitimate government. Haftar’s supporters, such as France, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, are disappointed with his losses in the last two months. Haftar has not only failed in his yearlong battle for Tripoli, he also lost critical positions he had gained since 2014.

France, in particular, has been angered as the Turkish-backed GNA prepares to take Jufra and Sirte. Jufra and Sirte are highly important for France as it collects gold and uranium that it plunders from African countries such as Mali, Chad and Niger as well as Libyan oil at Jufra air base and transports them via the Sirte port to France. Looting African wealth is not a new move for France as it has never abandoned its imperialist dreams for the continent. Libya is simply its latest station.

Paris says that it just wanted to bring freedom to Libya and cared about human rights, but actually, it was appetent for new opportunities to satisfy its greed. That is why France is supporting another dictator and mad man in Libya today instead of the legitimate government. It might argue that its objective is countering terrorism and restoring security in Libya, but it wants just another Egypt, another Abdel Fattah el-Sissi kind of dictator. Thus, it is not only overlooking Haftar’s brutal tactics and violations of democratic values and human rights, but it is promoting them.

Furthermore, Paris has been sending clandestine military aid for several years to Libya – this has been verified in many reports – while it is ironically sitting at the table with the international community to forge a resolution. It is pretending as if it wants peace in Libya, but actually it is one of the countries which puts up barriers to peace. It denies supporting Haftar’s side in Libya as wishfully thinking that it is forgotten that Macron hosted putschist Haftar in Paris with a smiling face this year during the warlord’s Tripoli offensive.

According to the U.N. Support Mission in Libya, mass graves were discovered in Tarhuna last month after the GNA rebuffed Haftar’s forces and liberated it. One might expect that France would change its mind, choose the right path and help restore stability in the war-torn country after that revelation. Even more, Paris has to admit that it made wrong by supporting a war criminal at least after the horrific mass graves in question have been uncovered. Instead, accusing Turkey of playing “a dangerous game”, France does not even hide that it is angry because Turkey has gained influence in Libya and Turkey-backed GNA changed the direction of the civil war outmaneuvering Haftar.

Turkey says that it still thinks that a common ground can be found, if France can be more realistic. But it looks like Paris can’t see straight as it has gone ballistic.

Merve Şebnem Oruç is an award-winning Turkish journalist and columnist for Daily Sabah and HABER. She is on Twitter here.