Turkey blackmailed Libya into energy deals, called on debt, analyst says

Turkey blackmailed Libya into giving it rights to extract oil and natural gas in the country, said Seth Frantzman, an analyst and columnist for the Jerusalem Post.

Turkey took advantage of a Libyan government under siege from opposition forces to strike the deal, providing mercenaries from Syria in return, said Frantzman, who is also Executive Director of The Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis and a Ginsburg/Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

The agreement has left the Libyan government with little of note, except for being saddled with extremists and a large bill, he said on Thursday.

Turkey swept in to offer the deal in November. It had already been backing the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli with limited amounts of weapons and financing with regional ally Qatar. Seemingly outgunned, the GNA was frantically seeking to prevent forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar from taking the capital.

The Turkish government was able to make its move because it could count on support or silence from the European Union, NATO and the United Nations amid threats to force hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to travel over the EU border into Greece, Frantzman said.

“The message was clear to the European Union: Either let Turkey seize a swath of the Mediterranean and take over part of Libya and send Syrians there, or the Syrians – some of whom were extremists – will be Europe’s problem,” Frantzman said. “With Germany and other European countries paying Ankara billions to keep Syrians in Turkey, there wasn’t much choice.”

In Libya, Turkey knew it had the government over a barrel, he said.

“They took advantage of our weakness at the time,” Libyan officials now say, according to Frantzman.

In Turkey, such claims by the officials have shocked and angered the pro-government media, which has been sold a narrative of a return to past Ottoman glories and a Libyan war that resembled a revolution against warlords similar to the Arab Spring, he said.

“But it now turns out that Ankara was pressuring (Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-) Sarraj for a year for the energy and maritime deal. Turkey was the only country really ready to give support,” Frantzman said.

It now appears that Turkey will milk Libya economically, he said, citing a report by the Associated Press that says Ankara has given Tripoli a bill of $1.7 billion for money owed to Turkish companies.

“A role in oil and offshore energy and then military bases will likely come next. Tripoli appears to be concerned that it is becoming another colony of Ankara, similar to the instability Turkey unleashed in northern Syria, where local voices become subservient to its whims but have little control over their own destiny,” Frantzman said.

It is now unclear whether Turkey’s involvement in Libya, which has now partitioned the country, will result in a deal with Russia to divide it permanently, Frantzman said. Russia, along with the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, support Haftar financially and militarily.

“Some voices in Turkey may be wondering if the Libyan adventure was worth it, especially now with the criticism,” he said. “It has united most Arab countries in opposition to Turkey’s role. It has also angered Greece.”