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Updated Apr 6, 2020

The European Union launched Operation Irini (“peace” in Greek) on March 31, a military operation with the set task of enforcing the arms embargo agreed upon at a Berlin summit in January. A European Council press release added that naval and air support will be deployed alongside satellite imagery. Immediate criticisms arose from the Government of National Accord (GNA), the Tripoli-based government that has been defending itself against an offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army since April 2019. Emadeddin Badi, a researcher at the Atlantic Council think tank, notes that Operation Irini can easily be circumvented via the Egyptian border. Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Russia have all been supplying weapons, fuel, and logistical support to Haftar’s forces.

In Badi’s view, Operation Irini will function less as a check against arms embargo violations than as a record of such violations. The launch of Operation Irini also marks the end of a prior EU initiative, Operation Sophia, which had a similar mandate but was also tasked with saving at least 9 percent of all migrants. This time around, EU members such as Hungary and Austria have taken a hardline stance against refugees, forcing Operation Irini to include the caveat that should their actions create conditions for greater migration out of Libya and to Europe, the operation can be suspended indefinitely. Liam Kelly, country director for Libya at the Danish Refugee Council, expects Operation Irini to focus mostly on East Libya, partly to avoid having to deal with migrant boat launches that primarily leave from West Libya. “The new operation is precisely conceived in order to not save lives at sea,” Kelly told Jeune Afrique.


Why It Matters

The delay in implementing a program such as Operation Irini to properly enforce the January arms embargo reflects the European Union’s unwillingness to forcefully address the root issues of the Libyan conflict’s perpetuation. Separately in the article, Badi said that the only effective way for the EU to enforce the embargo would be to hold countries like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates responsible, but this entails difficult foreign policy and diplomatic maneuvering that partner countries would rather avoid. Appeasing the nativist policies of Hungary and Austria is gravely concerning, as it more or less abrogates the European Union’s commitment to protecting human rights. This sets a dangerous precedent that could be expanded on in more sinister fashion as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten the principle of the free movement of people, a cornerstone of the European Union’s philosophy.

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