France’s defense ministry on Wednesday denounced an “extremely aggressive” intervention by Turkish ships against a French navy vessel participating in a NATO mission in the Mediterranean.
French sailors were trying to check a cargo ship on suspicion it was taking arms to Libya – forbidden under a UN embargo.
Turkish frigates carried out radar targeting three times, suggesting a missile strike was imminent, the French defense ministry said.
“This is an extremely aggressive act that is unacceptable by an ally against a NATO ship,” said a ministry official who did not want to be identified by name.
“We consider this an extremely grave matter... (and) we cannot accept that an ally behaves this way, that it does this against a NATO ship, under NATO command, carrying out a NATO mission,” the official said.
French Defense Minister Florence Parly later brought the matter up during a videoconference with her NATO counterparts, her office said.
Tensions between France and Turkey, which is also a NATO member, have flared recently over their roles in the civil war in Libya.
Turkey supports the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, while France is suspected of favoring the Libyan National Army’s Khalifa Haftar, based in eastern Libya.
Turkey’s support for the “offensive” of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) runs directly against efforts to secure a ceasefire, a French foreign ministry spokesman said.
A senior Turkish military official said on Wednesday it was “completely untrue” that the Turkish navy had harassed a French warship.
The Turkish military official told Reuters the French warship did not establish communications with the Turkish ship during the incident.
“If one takes into account that the French warship was refueled by our side before the alleged incident, it is clear how inappropriate and intentional the allegation is,” he said.
This week, Ankara condemned as “unacceptable” criticism from France over its shipments of weapons and fighters to the GNA, which Paris calls a “direct violation” of a United Nations embargo.
“These waves of boats between Turkey and Misrata, sometimes escorted by Turkish frigates, are not contributing to any de-escalation,” the French ministry official said Wednesday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday paid a surprise visit to Tripoli.
Oil-rich Libya has been torn by years of violence, drawing in tribal militias, extremists, and mercenaries since the 2011 toppling and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a Western-backed uprising.