FILE PHOTO: Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj, Libya's internationally recognized Prime Minister, visits Tripoli port after an attack, Libya February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
CAIRO – 27 August 2020: Turkey may deepen its involvement in the conflict in Libya, especially after the decision to dispatch forces to support the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which will mark a new phase in the fight between Libyan factions.
Ankara has already provided the internationally recognized GNA in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, with armored vehicles and drones.
It appears that the role of Turkish forces in Libya will focus on training and advisory tasks. If the LNA finds itself in trouble, Turkey will inevitably find itself forced to engage directly in the fight. Therefore, we can say that the role of the forces deployed by Turkey in Libya has not been determined yet.
The conflict in Libya intensified in April 2020 after Commander-in-Chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the main opponent of the Government of National Accord, began launching attacks on the capital, Tripoli, in what appeared to be a proxy war, amid the presence of several external parties choosing allies from the parties of the conflict in Libya to achieve their ambitions.
Thus, what is happening in Libya can be described as a microcosm of the major disaster in Syria, but it is quite clear there are more chapters of the Libyan crisis drama, and Turkey's biggest role in it will appear in the next few months.
The Government of National Accord, based in Tripoli, has what its opponents do not possess, as it is recognized by the United Nations. There is also a ban on arms sales imposed on both sides (which is somewhat overlooked with the reconciliation government) to defuse the crisis.
The GNA has strong support from Western countries, while Haftar received massive support from the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
Washington insists that a US drone was shot down by Russian missiles in November 2019. The United States operates these aircraft in the Libyan airspace to strike (Islamic State) IS there, highlighting the great complexity and chaos that manages the situation in Libya at a time when Russia is denying its role in the fight.
The Libyan tragedy remains a story that began when the United States joined a Western coalition to carry out an airstrike led by Britain and France to topple former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The efforts of the United Nations, which coincided with the continuing civil conflicts in Libya, succeeded in reaching an agreement to impose the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, but the eastern Libyan forces led by Khalifa Haftar refused to enter that agreement. In the absence of decisive diplomatic efforts, the crisis continues in Libya.
The Turks were frustrated by the desire of some of their NATO allies to try to get what they want in both directions as France, for example, is strengthening ties with General Haftar.
It was clear that President Erdogan's activism has a broader strategic dimension, as Turkey considers Libya to be part of the wider outlying regions in the eastern Mediterranean and an important economic gateway to Africa and has few allies in the region.
Turkey's support for the Muslim Brotherhood has sparked strong opposition from the Egyptian military government.
Relations between Israel and Turkey — which were once good — have long since stalled. Long-standing differences with Greece, which holds NATO membership, over Cyprus were exacerbated by energy issues.
In December 2019, Turkey signed with the GNA, which is an interim non-elected government that is recognized by the United Nations, two MoUs on defense, and gas drilling in the Mediterranean.
The maritime border agreement was rejected by several countries such as Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, and the UAE and was described as an illegal act that violated the sovereignty of other Mediterranean states.
These allegations are widely contested. However, Turkish positions send a signal to others in the energy field in the region, that unless Ankara is included in the wealth of the Mediterranean, the matter will be complicated.
Certainly, the increasing Turkish aggressiveness in exploring oil in Cypriot waters, which includes unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with weapons to secure drilling vessels, is part of this recent activity.
The Turkish maneuver against Libya threatens to cause a wider crisis in the eastern Mediterranean region, which in turn could involve Turkey's relations with Moscow, Washington, and the main NATO allies on the other hand. It will exacerbate existing regional tensions.
Turkey hopes that its military role in Libya will at least ensure the deadlock in the fighting, therefore ensuring that Ankara will have a say in any outcome.
According to Egyptian officials, Cairo’s approach has focused on containing the warring parties in Libya as a means to pull the rug out from under Turkey and Qatar. Both states have been taking advantage of the conflict in Libya to establish a foothold there, using extremist and terrorist elements as part of a larger scheme to rehabilitate, promote and reposition Islamist forces across the region.
Cairo was instrumental in promoting the ceasefire in Libya and its efforts have intersected with those of other regional and international powers keen to steer Libya back to stability.
Civil war broke out in Libya after the toppling of long-time ruler Muammer Gaddafi in 2011, who was later killed. Numerous militias are fighting for power and influence in the country, with Tripoli-allied militias backed by Turkey, Qatar and Italy. Meanwhile, eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, France and Russia.