06/07/2020 – A simmering spat between Turkey and France over the Libyan conflict is exposing NATO’s limited ability to maintain order and cooperation in its ranks, Associated Press reported on Sunday.
A dispute between Paris and Ankara has festered since an alleged incident on June 10 in which the French frigate Courbet said it was illuminated by the targeting radar of a Turkish warship escorting a Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Courbet was part of NATO’s Sea Guardian operation, which helps provide maritime security in the region. France said it was acting on intelligence from NATO that the Turkish-escorted ship was suspected of trafficking arms to Libya.
Turkey has denied the allegations and Turkey’s ambassador to Paris, Ismail Hakki Musa, angered French officials on Wednesday when he gave a power-point presentation to French senators denying that the Courbet had been “lit up” by targeting radar and accusing the French navy of harassing the Turkish convoy.
Musa also said that a NATO probe into the incident was “inconclusive” and that France had pulled out of the Sea Guardian operation.
The French defence ministry said it would not take part in the operation until all NATO members had recommitted to a United Nations arms embargo on Libya, among other demands.
NATO headquarters refused to provide details on its report, saying it was “classified,” and it is unlikely that its findings will be made public, AP said.
On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu accused France of lying over the June 10 incident.
“We have proven this with reports and documents and gave them to NATO. NATO saw the truth,” Çavuşoğlu said. “Our expectation from France at the moment is for it to apologise in a clear fashion, without ifs or buts, for not providing the correct information.”
On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron accused Turkey of ramping up its military presence in Libya and bringing in jihadi fighters from Syria.
“I think that it’s a historic and criminal responsibility for a country that claims to be a member of NATO,” Macron said. “We have the right to expect more from Turkey than from Russia, given that it is a member of NATO.”
Turkey and France back opposing sides in Libya’s civil war. Turkey is supporting the U.N.-recognised, Tripoli-based Government of National Accord in its fight against eastern-based rebel General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, which is backed by Russia, Egypt, and France, among others.
Turkey has also been involved in other recent controversies at NATO. Ankara angered alliance members by its invasion of northern Syria last year and through its purchase of Russian S-400 air defence missiles.
But Turkey can’t be ejected from NATO since there is no such mechanism and decisions require the unanimous agreement of all 30 member nations.