France has suspended its involvement in a NATO naval mission in the Mediterranean as a protest against Turkey. Recent tensions have deepened the strained relations between the two countries.
Announcing the move yesterday, France said that it had written to NATO to explain that it is pulling out temporarily from the mission codenamed Operation Sea Guardian. The operation mounts maritime patrols in the Mediterranean and in particular along the coast of Libya. The withdrawal is expected to stay in place until the alliance and the EU respond to French requests to condemn and marginalise Turkey.
The tense relations between the two NATO members comes after France criticised Turkey’s foreign policy in Libya and Syria over the past year. It comes especially after Paris accused the Turkish navy of harassing a French naval vessel in the Eastern Mediterranean last month while trying to inspect a cargo ship suspected of carrying weapons to Libya. Turkey has denied the accusation.
While Turkey supports the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli politically and militarily, France has indirectly been supporting its rival Libyan National Army (LNA) under rogue Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. His forces were defeated and pushed back recently in their campaign to take Tripoli, and Turkey played a military role in assisting the GNA. Meanwhile, the joint Greek-Egyptian-Israeli plan to exploit energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean was said to have been “foiled” by Turkey. France has since been particularly strong in its criticism of Turkey’s role in the region.
In mid-June, Paris expressed its desire for talks within NATO over what it called Turkey’s “aggressive” stance in Libya, and a week ago French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called on the European Union to discuss its relationship with Turkey based on its actions in Libya. This week French President Emmanuel Macron said Turkey is playing a “criminal” role in Libya. Turkey hit back against France’s criticism, saying that Macron suffers from an “eclipse of the mind”.
Le Drian informed a French parliamentary hearing yesterday that his request to hold talks with the EU has been accepted and that he will be meeting his EU counterparts on 13 July in order to discuss potential new sanctions against Turkey. This follows a set of sanctions last year which the EU imposed on Turkey over its drilling for energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.