Countries embroiled in East Med issues seek to project naval power - analysts

New sources of conflict in the East Mediterranean have provoked a naval rearmament of the region, analysts told U.S. magazine Defense News on Monday.

“Tension is escalating and I see procurement following suit,” said Sidharth Kaushal, a sea power research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Turkey, which backs the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya, has secured a foothold in the country after helping to repel an assault on the capital Tripoli by forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, which are backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), France and Russia.

Turkish military resources used to bolster GNA-allied forces include drones, naval support, armoured vehicles, Syrian mercenaries and military advisors.

Turkish naval vessels are assumed to have provided logistical support to Turkish drones as they pushed back Haftar’s assault and destroyed Russian Pantsir air defence systems defending him, Defense News said.

The news outlet cited an unconfirmed incident in which a Turkish frigate downed a UAE drone off the coast of Libya.

Turkey sails second-hand frigates acquired from the U.S. Navy which fire surface-to-air missiles, said Kaushal, who added that Ankara plans to add newer models to its fleet.

“They might build their own hull but would shop abroad for electronics and sensors, rather like China did in the early 2000′s,” he said.

Turkey could possibly deploy submarines to Libya, said Jalel Harchaoui, an analyst at the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands.

Recent tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean have shown how old rules and alliances have been blurred, Defense News said.

Turkish navy ships have escorted cargo ships to Libya allegedly loaded with arms and supplies for the GNA.

Recently, Turkey and its NATO ally France have rowed over a June 10 incident in which Paris claimed Turkish frigates escorting a cargo ship exercised “extreme aggression’’ towards a French warship enforcing a U.N. arms embargo on Libya.

An ongoing territorial dispute over Ankara’s claims to offshore gas and oil in the region have prompted a joint naval exercise by France and Italy.

Egypt, which on Saturday threatened to militarily intervene in Libya if the GNA and Turkey continued an advance on the strategic coastal city of Sirte, has either procured or is in the process of procuring a number of various naval vessels – including amphibious ships and frigates   – from France and Italy, Defense News said.

Russia meanwhile wants to arm all its ships in the Black Sea fleet with Kalibr cruise missiles, previously used in the Syrian conflict, “to become a player in the region,” Kaushal said.

“It is a very cheap way to build up power projection,” he said.

“Putting this type of missile on low-cost vessels is the future, Russia is setting the trend by making minimal resources go a long way, and France and Italy, as well as Greece and Turkey may follow suit.”