Has Rome Understood the Motives Behind the Attack on ENI’s Oil Concession in Libya? – Al Marsad

On 27 November, forces affiliated with the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) launched a blitzkrieg to take over the Eni-operated El-Feel oilfield which is secured by the Petroleum Installations Guard of the Libyan National Army General Command. The attack resulted in a production halt, and the pro-GNA media channels and news platform celebrated it as a victory although the takeover of the oil field, which is located near the southern city of Ubari, lasted only for a few hours before the Libyan National Army (LNA) succeeded in defeating and expelling the GNA armed group without any damage to the oil facilities, restoring security and oil production at this important oil field concession which is managed by the Italian energy global giant, ENI.

[Libya, 11 December 2019] – The analysis of the hidden aspect of this news story is connected to the coincidence of the attack on that oil field, with the presence of the GNA Prime Minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, on the same day in Istanbul to sign the controversial maritime agreement with the Turkish government.

Observers in political, diplomatic and oil circles in Rome see a link between the attack of the GNA forces specifically on the El-Feel oilfield, rather than any other oil field in Libya, and its coincidence with the signing ceremony of the GNA-Turkey maritime agreement in Istanbul.

El-Feel oilfield

Analysts have raised questions about why the Government of National Accord (GNA) did not claim responsibility for the attack on the El-Feel oil field. Was the GNA waiting for the imposition of a fait accompli on Rome, despite the announcement by the state television in Tripoli of the responsibility of the GNA forces for the attack in the early hours of the shortlived victory euphoria?

There are also questions raised about why the GNA ignored the killing of the commander of the attack, Hassan Musa, who is one of the most important men of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in southern Libya to the extent that his tribe seemed rightfully upset by the fact that Hassan Musa’s folks did not get even a statement of condolence or an honorary memorial service from the government that he sacrificed his life for.

Apart from the concession of the Southern Libya’s El-Feel oilfield, ENI, Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi or the National Hydrocarbons Authority, is one of the global giants in oil and gas exploration and production works with huge concessions in areas contested by Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean gas basin.

Therefore, the focal point here relates to the timing of the attempt by the GNA-aligned forces to take over El-Feel oil field instead of heading for example to control al-Sharara oil field, which is far more important than El-Feel. Al-Sharara exports almost a quarter of the country’s daily oil production at an output rate of 370,000 barrels per day and is operated by the Madrid-based Repsol, while El-Feel, operated by ENI, exports only 70,000 barrels per day with good quantities of gas passing through an undersea transnational pipeline delivering gas from Mellitah, Libya to Sicily, Italy, called the Greenstream pipeline.

The Greenstream pipeline

To demonstrate the vital role that the giant Italian company plays in the promising gas fields in a number of Mediterranean countries, ENI has acquired 70% of Edison’s stake in Block 12 of its northeast Egypt Ha’py offshore gas concession.

It should be noted that, in 2013, ENI was awarded a drilling and exploration concession area of 3,765 square kilometres off the northeast coast of Egypt where the Italian energy giant discovered, and is now developing, the Zohr field, the largest gas discovery ever made in the history of Egypt and in the Mediterranean Sea. The massive reserves of the Zohr field are estimated at thirty trillion cubic feet of extractable gas.

The Zohr field

Three energy gients, ENI, Total, and Noble Energy, share most of the current gas concessions in the Eastern Mediterranean region. ENI which has large concessions in both Egypt and Cyprus was never far from Turkish sight in the Mediterranean. Last year, Turkish warships intercepted ENI-chartered Saipem drillship off the coast of Cyprus and blocked its exploration works in an incident that almost developed into an overt political, and perhaps worse, confrontation between Rome and Ankara.

On the other hand, the French energy giant, Total, works in the offshore concession blocks of Cyprus, and this explains the recent diplomatic public tensions between the French and Turkish presidents, even if the background is ostensibly within a NATO framework, the massive gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean are the reason behind the verbal exchange between the two heads of states.

Similarly, a consortium comprised of the oil and gas giant Shell, US-based Noble Energy, and other multinational gas companies are currently working in both Cyprus and Israel.

These companies are watching the current tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean with concern amid calls for restraint and the necessity for all the states in the region to work according to international law.

These companies play a major role in the plans and operations of exploration, drilling, investment, production and export of energy in the Mediterranean basin. ENI, as an Italian company, may prefer the Greek-Italian gas pipeline to the Turkish one, while Turkey is exploring through Turkish companies away from multinational giants participating off its coasts. All of this highlights the background of part of the European, specifically the angry reaction from Italy and Greece towards the Sarraj-Erdogan maritime agreement. This is a matter of serious concern for global energy companies as the the size of ENI, Total and Noble Energy that have the power to change policies and turn the tables on countries and regimes.

Over the past two weeks, there has been considerable talk in political circles in Rome, particularly among stakeholders and through media platforms and newspapers, about how the Italian government was stabbed in the back by the Italian-backed Tripoli government.

Some see that the attack by an armed group aligned with the UN-recognized Government of National Accord on the El-Feel oil field operated by the Italian company ENI just a few hours before the Italian-backed Chairman of the Government of National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj, concluded with the Turkish President Recep Erdogan an agreement to redraw the maritime borders in the Mediterranean, was an attempt by Fayez al-Sarraj to pressure Rome through his aligned forces, to takeover of one of the critical and vital energy assets of Eni in the oil-rich Libya. This was apparently in an attempt to put pressure on Italy and force it to stay neutral and not align with its European Union allies, namely Greece and Cyprus, against Turkey.

This view does not imply the specific role for Ankara in the attack on the El-Feel oil field as much as it indicates an attempt by the Presidential Council in Tripoli to politically blackmail Rome to stay neutral stance after declaring from Istanbul the signing of a controversial maritime agreement—one that the GNA knew full well that it would anger Rome.

However, the LNA’s recovery of the El-Feel oil field that is managed by ENI has prevented the GNA from succeeded with its deceptive scheme, according to Italian diplomats that Al Marsad spoke to throughout the past week. The plan backfired for the GNA.

Yesterday, the Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio put an end to gossip when he openly declared that the memorandum of understanding signed by Turkey and Libya on the maritime zones delineation in the East Mediterranean was totally illegal, threatening interests, and undermining stability among the entire Mediterranean basin countries. A sharp statement indeed, and the first of its kind issued by the head of Italian diplomacy towards the allies in the Presidential Council of Tripoli, while the Italian Ambassador to Libya, Giuseppe Maria Grimaldi, disappeared and is no longer seen in Tripoli.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio

While some observers say that Ambassador Grimaldi has actually left without approval to his country for consultations, others say that the Italian Foreign Minister spoke yesterday to determine his country’s position towards the recent serious developments. These developments started with the armed takeover by a force aligned with the Italian-backed Tripoli government of the ENI-managed El-Feel oil field, few hours before the eruption of an unprecedented tension over the Eastern Mediterranean massive gas reserves in the wake of the signing of the maritime agreement by the Government of National Accord that Italy supports, and Ankara, the archenemy of Rome’s EU ally, Athens.

© Al Marsad English (2019)