Ankara says the maritime sovereignty of war-affected Libya cannot be violated by Israel, Egypt, Greece and other regional players for their gas pipeline project in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The maritime deal between the internationally-recognised government of Libya and Ankara is in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the spokesperson of the Turkish Foreign Ministry told TRT World.
"The deal between Ankara and Tripoli allows Libya to assert its maritime sovereignty in the Eastern Mediterranean, and is in complete accordance with the international law and based on the United Nations maritime law, its related articles and previous international court decisions," Aksoy told TRT World.
This comes after UN-backed Libyan leader Fayez al Sarraj and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a deal on November 27, preventing Greece and the Greek Cypriot Administration and other regional states from violating maritime boundaries and cutting Libya and Turkey out of the resource-rich areas of the Eastern Mediterranean.
"Turkey and Libya recorded their respective maritime rights which refer to the southwest [of the Eastern Mediterranean] after signing a bilateral agreement," spokesman Hami Aksoy said.
Ankara previously slammed Greece for playing a destabilising role in the Eastern Mediterranean by making attempts to seize approximately 39,000 square metres of maritime waters that belong to Libya. Turkey says the infringement violates international norms as it is aimed at facilitating Israel's gas pipeline project backed by Athens, Cairo, Tel Aviv and the Greek Cypriot Administration, while completely sidelined Libya and Turkey.
The Turkey-Libya maritime agreement also comes against the backdrop of an energy deal signed between Greece and the Greek Cypriot Administration in November 2018. With Israel being the main source of $7 billion EastMed pipeline deal, the project is to start about 170 kilometres (105 miles) off Cyprus’s southern coast and stretch for 2,200 kilometres (1,350 miles) to reach Otranto, Italy, via Crete Island, the Greek mainland, and the Egyptian maritime zone.
The UN-backed Libyan government was completely sidelined by Israel and Greece even though the EastMed pipeline project is to pass through the Libyan maritime zone.
Israel has built its influence in some quarters of Libya through Libyan renegade warlord Khalifa Haftar who has captured Benghazi and wields influence in the neighbouring Tobruk — the cities standing along the Mediterranean coastline close to Greece's Crete island. In a 2017 backdoor deal, Haftar agreed on signing energy and arms agreements with Tel Aviv if Israel supported its military advances in the war-affected country.
Aksoy added Turkey-Libya maritime deal also challenges the "maximalist claims" of Greece and Greek Cypriot Administration over the maritime jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean.
"Turkey has clearly demonstrated its determination in the eyes of world public opinion to protect the rights stemming from international law,” he said.
With the deal in place, Ankara and Libya are now working towards establishing control between Turkey’s southwestern coast of Fethiye-Marmaris-Kas and Derna-Tobruk-Bordia coastline of Libya. Both parties aim to strengthen "security and military cooperation".
Kaan Devecioglu, a research fellow at Association of Researchers on Africa, said Libya has always been crucial from both historical and geographical aspects of Turkish foreign policy.
"It should not be forgotten that the Ottoman Empire’s collapse started with losing its impact in the East Mediterranean. In this context, this agreement is crucial and it should be appreciated as a huge victory,” Devecioglu said.
According to Devecioglu, the potential outcome of the agreement is Turkey can prevent Greece’s "illegal attempts to transfer the gas from the East Mediterranean to Europe by using unilaterally seized 39,000 square metres".
Devecioglu emphasised that because Haftar enjoys support from regional power players such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, Libya's official government struggles to create exclusive economic zones (EEZ) over its own archipelagic resources.
Although Turkey has expressed its willingness to have a dialogue with all the regional states that aim to invest in the energy resources of the Mediterranean and Aegean waters, Devecioglu said Ankara's recent agreement with Libya could push Israel, Egypt, Greece and other European Union (EU) states to open negotiations with the Turkish government.
In March 2019, Greece's Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos said Turkey has a coastline of "many kilometres" ruling out its exclusion in energy-related issues in the Eastern Mediterranean area.
Prior to Israel waging war over Gaza in 2010, the proposed route for the EastMed pipeline passed through Turkey’s EEZ. The route was both convenient and cost-effective.