Implications of Haftar’s Visit in Greece

On a surprise move, Khalifa Haftar has visited Athens on Thursday 17 January, late evening.The next morning General Haftar met the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, before heading to the Hellenic Parliament, to meet Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The upcoming talks in Berlin have been at the top of the agenda between the Libyan strongman and Mr. Mitsotakis. Albeit the wide and enthusiastic coverage the visit has received from Greek media, there has been no official joint statement by General Haftar and the Greek side, once the talks have been completed.

Mr. Dendias has tried to highlight the key points of the meeting in an interview he gave on Friday night, 17 January, to the Greek state-owned broadcaster ERT. According to the Greek Minister, Athens would pursue – by all means – the establishment of an unconditional and open-ended ceasefire and at the same time the cancellation of the two Memoranda of Understanding between GNA and Turkey. Mr. Haftar is allegedly totally agreeing with the Greek pledges for the cancellation of the MoUs, a claim that makes absolute sense, considering that LNA wants to limit any Turkish involvement in the Libyan front. Mr. Dendias could not confirm if and to what extent General Haftar will put on the table the cancellation of MoUs, as a necessary condition for the smooth progress of the negotiations, during the Berlin summit tomorrow. It has also been stressed out that Greece is not seeing the current situation in the eastern Mediterranean as a zero-sum game between Ankara and Athens, and the ideal solution should guarantee benefits for all the sides involved.

At the same time Greek PM, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, stated that the absence of Greece in the Berlin summit is a sad fact and Germany has overlooked the crucial role of Greece, as a factor of stability in the region. Mr. Mitsotakis clarified that Greece was willing to veto any decision with regards to the Libyan crisis, that would not reject the validity of the two MoUs between Tripoli and Ankara. A statement that has been probably a part of the Government’s communication policy, considering that even if Athens tries to veto any decision about Libya in the level of EU foreign ministers, the impact on the outcome of the process would be minimal. Besides, we highly doubt that Greece could proceed to vetoing any such plans, in the first place.

Back to Haftar’s presence in Athens, we should look at the timing and the implications of the visit. Greece has been struggling to establish herself as an equal negotiating party on the Libyan process, especially after the Turkish latest moves, that impact directly the Greek vital national interests. Athens failure to secure a position in the table of negotiations in Berlin had a significant political backlash for the government, which had to be turned around the soonest.

Mr. Dendias has visited Libya and met with General Haftar in late December 2019 and expressed the Greek support to the LNA efforts. The two parties have agreed to hold another meeting in Athens, and the current timing could not be better for Greece. The absence of a joint statement and the limited comments from the Greek side about what has been discussed, indicates that little progress has been made in terms of promoting the Greek demands against the Turkish provocations in the region. On the other hand, the Greek major media -most of them friendly to the current administration- have presented the event, as an unprecedented Greek success that could constraint the EU and Turkish options and the only possible outcome from the Sunday negotiations would be the most favorable one for Greece. Briefly Haftar’s meeting has been sold to the Greek public, as a game –  changing development, speculating that Haftar is planning to decisively promote the Greek positions in Berlin. Apparently this approach is ignoring the fact that Haftar forces are waging war for almost six years in Libya, and the top priority for the General is to consolidate his power all over the country and secure his very survival.

Assessing the current power balance in-country and the ongoing international developments related to Libya, we believe that Haftar’s role will be considerably upgraded, opening the road to the General to eventually control the country. The Greek side is relying on this scenario to capitalize on the potential gains, assuming that things will play out well for the Libyan General. However, we should always consider that several regional powers have also supported Haftar, including Egypt, UAE and allegedly Israel. These powers have provided much more substantial support long before Greece and will certainly seek to use the potential Haftar’s prevalence in their best interest.