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Analysis

Erdogan Plans Libya Military Dispatch, Risking Encounter With Key Actors

Wednesday 1 January 2020
Erdogan Plans Libya Military Dispatch, Risking Encounter With Key Actors

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Alwaght- The Turkish presidential office on Monday sent a letter to the parliament with the signature of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling for the parliament to approve military forces deployment to Libya. 

The letter read that after February 2011 developments, the efforts to establish democratic institutions in Libya were undermined as the armed clashes sparked, leading to sporadic governing structures. Now with the presentation of this bid to the parliament, the Turkish military deployment to the North African nation has become even more serious. 

Libya and the Turkish military dispatch 

Following the intensification of the tensions and launching a new wave of attacks by General Khalifa Haftar on December 12 to seize the capital Tripoli, Fathi Bashagha, the minister of interior of the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord, officially urged allied Turkey to deploy military forces to the war-ravaged country. Since the beginning, Erdogan responded affirmatively to the call saying that when the parliament reopens in January next year, he will send a bill on the issue to the lawmakers. Now the parliament has received the bill and it is expected that the lawmakers authorize Erdogan to send troops and military equipment to help the GNA. 

The military deployment to Libya becomes even more serious as Ankara and the GNA on November 27 signed two important pacts: One was on the maritime sovereignty of the two countries in the Mediterranean Sea and the other was about boosting security and military cooperation. After these pacts were signed, Libya case, which is apparently tied to geoeconomics and geopolitics of the Mediterranean and makes more actors sensitive to the Libyan future, made the competitions more complicated and ambiguous. 

This is while the Libyan clashes have dramatically increased, reaching a decisive juncture. In response to Haftar-led attacks, the GNA launched “Operation Volcano of Rage” to push back the militias advancing towards the capital. 

Libya’s complicated circumstances 

Saudi Arabia and Turkey are two key regional actors in the Libya conflict. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, the Saudis offered Haftar “tens of millions of dollars” in return for start of the operation to capture the capital Tripoli, the seat of the GNA. On the opposite side, Turkey has its own justifications to play its Libya role. Beside historical motivations and Erdogan’s neo-Ottomanism, Ankara invested massively in Libya. A Bloomberg news agency’s report claimed that Turkish companies active in Libya agreed with the GNA to invest $18 billion in Libyan projects. 

When the Haftar-led forces, calling themselves Libyan National Army (LNA), claimed that only 300 meters separated them from Tripoli, a number of Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters published a video on social media saying that they entered Libya to support the GNA-aligned forces. Some media even claimed that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters arrived in Libya and immediately launched their ground campaign against the anti-government forces. On Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition-run monitoring group, said that Turkey sent about 500 Syrian Turkmen fighters to Libya for the battle there. Earlier, the Saudi-run Al-Arabiya news network talked about Turkish arms shipments delivered to GNA-led forces in Misrata port city northwest of Libya. The arms were meant to be sent to forces protecting Tripoli, the Saudi-funded news network added. 

While Turkey and Libya are directing a proxy war in Libya, a relatively large number of foreign players with even more complicated stances and interests are beholding the wrestling of Haftar-led forces and their GNA-led opponents for the capital. They are assessing the situation in expectation of an appropriate chance to step in. 

The UAE and Egypt support Saudi Arabia’s agenda in Libya. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt in comments on the Libyan situation said that Libya was a key element in Egyptian security. He is hopeful that a coup-yielded government like his own comes to power in Libya to quell the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned government that is now governing Libya’s Tripoli. 

France and Italy support Haftar, too, and Germany seeks a political solution. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said last week that he called on Turkey to refrain from seeking a military solution to the Libyan crisis. Among the regional countries, Tunisia supports the Turkish stance, though conservatively. Tunisian parliament’s speaker last week said that his country only recognizes the GNA in Libya that is also recognized by the United Nations. He added, however, that he does not support any warring side in Libya. This stance complies with Turkey’s demand. On Wednesday, Erdogan in a surprise visit traveled to Tunisia to discuss the Libyan crisis with the Tunisian leaders. 

Russian and American stances on Libya are so complicated. Moscow and Washington’s interests in Libya are related to Europe and the rivalry over the energy exports. Russia relatively favors tensions in Libya as escalation between the Libyan sides will lead to tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, a region that recently witnessed significant agreements for gas exports to Europe. The conflict will also delay potential Libyan gas deliveries to Europe to an uncertain time. This will make Russia support the Turkish deployment while it already backed Haftar’s campaign. Erdogan in his latest visit to Moscow pushed to persuade President Vladimir Putin of Russia to stop support to Wagner Group, a Russian militant mercenary company fighting beside anti-GNA forces. 

The success to avoid a confrontation with Moscow had the side effect of distancing from Washington as Haftar holds close relations with the American administration. US President Donald Trump is seeking to pressure Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean by supporting Cyprus there. To send forces to Libya, Turkey will need to cross Kurdish Cyprus. Greece will be provoked, meanwhile. 

In November 2019, Egypt held military drills with Southern Cyprus and Greece in an attempt to flex muscles to Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s military deployment will shift Ankara’s proxy war in Libya to direct involvement, something posing a substantial risk to Ankara as the US, Europe, and their Arab allies, each pursuing various interests, watch the Libyan military developments very closely. 

Now the Turkish parliament faces a difficult situation to make a crucial decision. The Turkish opposition finds troops deployment dangerous and even fatal. But Erdogan is sturdy in his decision. In the latest speech in Izmit city, Erdogan said that if Ankara walks back from its approach to Northern Cyprus and Libya, Turkey “will have no coasts for swimming and fishing.” 

The Turkish leader has so far declined to release his main motivations behind Turkey's Libya military role. Does he seek a limited operation for big advantages like those launched in Syria? Does he favor long-term conflict in Libya? Or will he just seek setting up military bases in Libya and Tunisia? 

Answers to these questions largely depend on other actors’ reactions. Recently Egypt softened its tone and defended political solution. Khalifa called on the world community to prevent Turkish military deployment. On December 21, his forces seized a Turkish ship off Libya coasts and transferred it to Ras Al-Hilal port in the country’s east in a bid to put strains on Ankara. 

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Libya Erdogan Military Deployment Intervention Haftar

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