He began courting Haftar, seeing this ambitious and post-revolutionary warlord as a key partner in ensuring “stability” against extremism
France withdrew from the NATO naval operation along the eastern Mediterranean this month, emphasizing its obvious antagonism towards Turkey for having effectively foiled its regional geopolitical interests.
On the one hand, France presented itself as a neutral diplomatic player in Libya, reiterating the calls to all Libyan players to return to the negotiating table in a recent joint declaration with Italy and Germany.
At the Paris summit aimed at reaching a political solution in 2018, the Libyans and other officials feared that France would want to supplant the efforts of the UN and direct the peace talks towards its own interests. “A number of other Libyans have been invited to participate on the sidelines but will not be invited to sign the agreement,” the International Crisis Group noted in a statement, suggesting that Paris was trying to select its preferred actors, while excluding others.
Paris’ desire to position itself as an influential foreign policy power manifested itself very early on. Analysts have argued that one of the motives of former President Nicolas Sarkozy for supporting the 2011 revolution against Muammar Gaddafi was to restore France as the dominant European military power.
After Libya’s descent into instability, France pursued its own economic and security interests. He began courting Haftar, seeing this ambitious and post-revolutionary warlord as a key partner in ensuring “stability” against extremism and ultimately protecting France’s economic interests, such as exploration and Total’s oil production.
France has supplied Haftar with military equipment and training in duplicate, according to the French newspaper Le Monde. Even during Haftar’s Tripoli campaign, launched in April 2019, French missiles were seen among Haftar’s forces. Middle East Eye also revealed that gunmen with French passports had crossed the Libyan border last year to provide Haftar with logistical support.
Rivalry with Turkey
Unlike some of Haftar’s other donors, including the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, France has made commitments to the GNA and Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Yet his devious ties to Haftar contradict his declared support for peace initiatives, including the Berlin conference in January, aimed at achieving a ceasefire and enforcing an arms embargo. Haftar himself rejects such initiatives, seeking to conquer Libya by force.
Despite France’s bet, it was clear that Haftar’s offensive would not succeed, rather creating a prolonged deadlock.
Turkey’s intervention since the beginning of the year to consolidate the besieged GNA destroyed Paris’ vision for Libya. Ankara and the GNA also signed an agreement last November, granting Turkey permission to explore the Libyan coasts for oil, threatening France’s interests in the eastern Mediterranean.
France expressed frustration with Turkey’s efforts and tensions between them have erupted. The French Navy seized a Turkish ship delivering weapons to the GNA in March, while the French Embassy in Greece called the GNA-Turkey agreement “invalid”.
Today, Turkey has overshadowed France as the country’s dominant external player, detonating France’s strategy. French President Emmanuel Macron launched repeated verbal attacks on Ankara, noting last month: “I think it is a historic and criminal responsibility for a country that claims to be a member of NATO.”
Macron said a week earlier that Turkey was playing a “dangerous game” that “goes against all of its commitments made at the Berlin conference”. He accused Turkey of being “extremely aggressive”.
The more successful Ankara seems to be in Libya, the harder and more charged Macron’s words are. But while France blames Turkey for violating the UN arms embargo, it has not addressed the illegal support of the United Arab Emirates or Egypt for Haftar’s offensive, showing a double standard. Macron also supported Egypt’s peace initiative last month, saying it is taking sides with Egypt against Turkey.
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French-made Rafale fighter jets reportedly hit Turkish forces at the al-Watiya strategic air base near Tripoli earlier this month, a site that the GNA took over in May. This sparked speculation that Paris could have been involved, but France also sold these planes to Egypt.
Whatever the identity of the author, this incident symbolizes the polarizing alliances that hinder peace in Libya. By taking sides for the countries that led the war in Libya, France gives priority to stopping Turkey rather than peace.
With Haftar’s campaign almost defeated, France will now fight for a new approach, especially after Macron recently suggested that Haftar was becoming a handicap. For the moment, Paris is clearly determined to counter and vilify Turkey.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, often considered to be the driving force behind France’s assertive foreign policy, warned on July 1 that Paris could even support sanctions against Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Turkey will respond to sanctions.
Undermine peace efforts
But France’s role in Libya is not only to prevent Turkey from entering. Last year, France blocked Haftar’s EU convictions and previously supported Haftar against Italy’s support for the GNA, highlighting its rivalry with Rome. All of this made the EU a helpless player in Libya, even before Haftar’s last offensive and Turkey’s entry into the war.
France has also largely refrained from criticizing Russia’s role, due to their mutual support for Haftar and as a counterweight against Turkey. This shows Paris’ role in undermining NATO, despite its criticism of Turkey for having done the same. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said in May that he was ready to support the GNA, but France will not support any initiative that legitimizes Turkey’s success.
If France gave priority to collective peace initiatives rather than its own independent objectives, this could increase the chances of resolving the conflict
Even if France is not favorable to the role of Russia, its own efforts to divide Europe have granted Moscow the freedom to expand into Libya and to become a dominant energy broker, alongside the Turkey.
Although she presented herself as a reliable and diplomatic player in Libya, France’s actions show that she was embarrassing. In addition, he takes advantage of the general absence and indifference of the United States towards political unrest in Libya.
If France gave priority to collective peace initiatives rather than its own independent objectives, this could increase the chances of resolving the conflict.
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.