NATO members France and Turkey have been engaging in a rhetorical Cold War over these previous months, primarily over their respective involvements in Libya. However, a recent incident has intensified the situation. Now, NATO will try to mediate, while Turkey demands an apology from Paris.
On Wednesday, July 1, France informed NATO that it would temporarily withdraw from the Sea Guardian maritime surveillance mission, due to Turkish provocation in the Mediterranean. According to the French, a Turkish warship repeatedly directed its fire-control radar at a French frigate, which France considered “extremely aggressive.”
Accordingly, France addressed the issue at the recent NATO Defense Ministers’ meeting. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg then announced that the NATO military authorities were now investigating the June 10 incident, also because the French frigate was underway as part of the “Sea Guardian” maritime surveillance operation at the time of the incident.
France: Turkey’s Actions ‘Totally Unacceptable’
Defense Minister Florence Parly raised the issue on Thursday in the European Parliament, complaining that the actions of the Turkish Navy were “totally unacceptable” and “unworthy of an ally”.
Turkey, meanwhile, has not only denied the accusations but rejected them as “completely unrealistic.” Turkey claims that the French frigate sailed dangerously fast in the immediate vicinity of their vessel without engaging in radio contact. For security reasons, the Turkish ship used the radar’s integrated camera to monitor the maneuver, but no target acquisition was carried out. Ankara also pointed out that a few days before the incident, the Turkish Navy had even supplied the French ship with fuel.
Turkey: France’s Accusations are False and Require an ‘Unconditional Apology’
Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu reiterated Ankara’s stance on Thursday in Berlin, after a meeting with Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. Turkey thus expects nothing but an “unconditional apology” from France.
In reality, what likely transpired is that Turkey tried to prevent the French frigate from checking a cargo ship, the Chirkin, that been suspected of being used for Turkish arms deliveries to Libya. The ship had previously been used for exactly this purpose in May, according to reports.
France has long accused Turkey of violating the current EU arms embargo by delivering arms to the Libyan government’s troops. Turkey, on the other hand, is of the opinion that countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s arms deliveries for the troops of General Khalifa Haftar also violate the arms embargo. Haftar leads the Libyan National Army (LNA) and is an opponent of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
It is still unclear whether the French frigate’s crew knew at the time of the incident that a Greek frigate from the EU’s Operation Irini had previously unsuccessfully tried to gain access to the Cirkin, which was sailing to Libya. At the time, Turkey made it clear to the Greek forces by radio that the ship was under their protection and would not obey orders from Greece. As a result, the commander withdrew his order.
New Sanctions on the Table Against Ankara
The Alliance’s military committee is now advising what exactly happened between the ships of the two NATO countries. Politically, the dispute is unlikely to be settled any time soon, however. France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has demanded that his EU counterparts discuss new sanctions against Ankara at their meeting on July 13.
The real issue, however, goes far beyond this individual case and is not merely a problem between Turkey and France, but a wider clash between NATO and Ankara as a whole. Paris, like many other NATO member states, has opposed the demand to label the Kurdish YPG militias as a terrorist organisation. This is an affront to Ankara, even though the YPG were the West’s main ally in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. In return, Ankara blocked NATO’s updated defense plans for Poland and the the Baltic States for more than a year. Turkey’s shenanigans with France are just only the tip of the iceberg and are unworthy of an ally, indeed.