EU mission to stop arms entering Libya ‘constrained’ and 'handicapped’

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The EU’s military operation in the Mediterranean Sea to stop the flow of arms to Libya has been left constrained and handicapped by a lack of political cohesion and resources, analysts have said.

The 27-member bloc announced its Irini air and naval mission in the Mediterranean in March this year as a cornerstone of tactics to enforce Libya’s long-flouted UN arms embargo.

However, Operation Irini faltered in its early stages and, following a decisive intervention by Turkey to bolster the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli in recent months the country is more awash with weapons and foreign mercenaries than ever.

In an article for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, analysts Amanda Lapo and Hugo Decis have outlined the factors holding Irini back from stemming the tide of arms entering Libya as well as the limited scope of the mission in its current form.

“The EU’s limited political cohesion on Libya has handicapped its ability to play a greater role in trying to end the conflict,” the pair wrote.

Fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) secure the area of Abu Qurain, half-way between the capital Tripoli and Libya's second city Benghazi, against forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, who is based in eastern Benghazi AFP

“It has also constrained the resources devoted to a key plank of its approach.”

Operation Irini was one of the EU’s central commitments to enforce the agreements made by world powers at the Berlin Summit on Libya in January. Upholding the country’s 2011 arms embargo was seen as one of the key methods to de-escalate tensions in the North African country.

Despite the speed at which the operation was set up the mission has been marred by infighting between EU members. Many countries are still considering what they will contribute.

Greek and French ships joined the mission at the end of May but Malta, which had pledged specially trained boarding personnel for the mission, withdrew its participation in an apparent attempt to influence the GNA and its Turkish backers.

The institute’s paper outlines what this has meant for the operation. Currently the mission lists its only assets as the Greek frigate Spetsai, a German P-3C Orion maritime-patrol aircraft and one small aircraft for reconnaissance each from Luxembourg and Poland.

It has rarely had more than one vessel operating at any one time, with the French destroyer Jean Bart and the Greek frigate Hydra having been deployed together for merely two weeks, from May 14 to 28.

The GNA in Libya and Turkey, which supports it, have regularly criticised Irini and said it gives an unfair advantage to the rival Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar by blocking the arrival of fresh weapons and fighters.

Operation Irini has hailed at least 100 vessels in relation to suspected breach of the arms embargo, the article outlined. Despite these efforts however, no weaponry has ever been seized.

Attempts by the EU to involve Nato in plans to bolster the mission have been a non-starter because of Turkey’s inevitable move to block any such assistance.

As tensions in Libya have continued to escalate with the country’s eastern LNA and western GNA factions facing off around Sirte near Libya’s central coast, France, Germany and Italy have said they are ready to use sanctions to enforce the embargo. Diplomatic efforts for de-escalation have continued with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday speaking with US President Donald in a call on Libya.

In a statement last week the three nations emphasised their continued commitment to Operation Irini. However the institute’s analysts have emphasised that the continued problems with the naval and air mission could have further-reaching consequences.

“This will reinforce the sense that the EU continues to struggle in its efforts to brand itself as a security provider, within an already uncertain international order,” they wrote.

Updated: July 21, 2020 03:38 PM

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