When Khalifa Haftar on Jan. 18 blockaded five oil terminals with a capacity to produce 800,000 barrels per day, Libya’s oil exports immediately dropped to 80,000 barrels per day. This roughly cost the Libyan people $6 billion. However, that is just the beginning.
SIRTE, OIL: A FAMILIAR SCENARIO
In my previous article, I had mentioned Sirte’s significance. The Sirte Basin is the lifeline of the country’s oil production and export revenues. Normally, the path taken for oil trade is: the income from oil export is deposited into the Tripoli-based Libya Central Bank, which is under the control of the legitimate Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognized by the UN and supported by Turkey. However, Sirte is still under warlord Haftar’s control. We should not be surprised if in the upcoming period, Haftar, who is slowly being backed into a corner after he failed to capture Tripoli, comes up with a suggestion to divide the country as “East Libya and West Libya.” We saw this scenario in Iraq and Sudan.
According to international law, the authority to conduct oil trade belongs to the GNA led by Fayez al-Sarraj. Information from the ground is that the EU countries supporting Haftar, primarily France, are illegally buying oil from Libya. There is an important reason for this.
Libyan oil has very low sulfur content. This makes it easier to process the oil and reduces costs. A vast portion of the refineries in Europe is designed for a low quality sulfur oil. In other words, Libya is of critical importance for EU countries. Let us note that prior to the chaos in the country, about 85 percent of Libya’s exports in 2010 was to Europe. The amount of oil France imported from Libya increased in 2017 and 2018, reaching an average of 30 million barrels. About 9 percent of the total 397 million barrels of crude oil that France imported in 2018 came from Libya. Hence, it can be said that the leaders of several EU countries, primarily France’s Emmanuel Macron, are turning a blind eye to the oil smuggling from Libya, while intentionally or unintentionally breaking the law.
REASONS UNDERLYING ANTI-TURKEY SENTIMENT
Let us take a look at the 2016 report the U.K. House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee prepared in relation to Libya. The report includes information contributed by Sidney Blumenthal, French intelligence’s adviser to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Accordingly, the reason France wanted a military intervention in Libya in 2011 was to encroach on the lion’s share from Libya’s oil production, increase France’s influence in northern Africa, exploit Libya in French internal politics, and end Muammar Gaddafi’s operations in French-speaking African countries. In other words, there is a strategy in the works behind France’s support to Haftar. Just as Macron does not care about the Libyan people, he has his sights set on the oil to be used for the welfare of the Libyan people. As a matter of fact, at the cost of reaching this oil through illegal means.
Speaking at the Tunisian Parliament during his visit to Tunisia in 2018, Macron had heavily criticized the 2011 military intervention on Libya, and said, “It was wrong for us to think that the crisis in Libya would be resolved through military intervention. The U.S. and some EU countries are to blame for Libya’s current state, and we are all responsible for the immorality happening in Libya.” Yet when the balances on the ground changed with Turkey’s support, Macron took another turn.
It can be said that Jean Yves le Drian, who was formerly Sarkozy’s defense minister and is now serving as Macron’s foreign minister, has a great share in these salvos, and that Macron has entered le Drian’s orbit.
This time, siding with another coup-plotter, Egypt's Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, France is trying to run to the rescue of Greece and the Greek Administration of South Cyprus (GASC), which were unable to respond to Turkey’s steps in the East Mediterranean. In the joint declaration these countries published on May 11, 2020 concerning Libya and the East Mediterranean, they directed baseless accusations against Turkey. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has no connection to the East Mediterranean also joined in on the declaration. While the sole reason all these countries are concerned about Libya is oil and natural gas, Turkey’s relations with Libya is based on contributing to the provision of permanent peace, stability and security in Libya, and mutual benefit. Turkey’s visit to Tripoli with a crowded delegation increased the expectation of prolonged positive developments on the battlefield and the hopes of the Libyan people who want peace.
THE EU’S HYPOCRISY
Whenever Turkey takes legal steps in accordance with its rights in the East Mediterranean, the EU always deems its actions as “unlawful” each time by claiming “union solidarity.” However, some EU countries, led by France, sit at the same table with a dictator who has come to office in Egypt through a coup, and also cooperate with Khalifa Haftar, who is also trying to collapse the Libyan people’s representative and legitimate Libyan government via a coup. When oil is in question, the EU’s law understanding is based on this hypocrisy.