Turkish Intervention in Libya and Potential Ramifications

Libya is an African country holding the largest oil reserves in the region and is considered a key player in the gas natural resources market. In the aftermath of the fall and death of long-time Libya’s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has become chaos- a wracked country torn by violence and conflicts from inside and outside. Therefore, foreign powers have been competing to exploit the country. One of the most effective powers that are eagerly seeking to take advantage of “as possible” the Libyan war is Turkey. Turkey is hardly working to develop a Mediterranean policy that may compete with that of its neighboring countries through its influence on Libya. It has also pursued oil and gas interests there. There are growing fears that the “Turkish intervention” preludes for a regional war, which would worsen an already dire Libyan’s condition, destabilize Libya’s neighbors, and threatens European security interests. Consequently, this article is going to address the Libyan civil war, Turkish intervention’s goals and ramifications, and other foreign powers’ reactions and relations to the Libyan issue and Turkish influence.

Since the depose of late strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, two rival administrations have been conflicting in Libya: one in Tripoli, which is the government of National Accord  (GNA) supported by Turkey, Qatar and United Nations, and the other one in eastern Libya backed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Russia and Jordan. The GNA is headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and the LNA is under the leadership of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

Tripoli has been the main target of the Libyan National Army (LNA) headed by Khalifa Haftar. He launched his offensive last April 2019 to topple the Government of National Accord (GNA), the internationally recognized government. The LNA has so far failed to seize the capital, but it has influence in most of the positions that it captured just a few kilometers from the city centre. According to the United Nations, since Forces loyal to eastern-based Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar have launched their offensive in Tripoli, more than 280 civilians and over 2,000 fighters have been killed, and 146,000 citizens displaced.

The GNA that is headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj called for Turkish military support after the LNA launched another offensive on 12 Dec 2019 to take control of Tripoli. After months of being outside of Tripoli, Haftar’s forces resumed their attacks on the capital from several fronts.

Ankara has been planning to expand its intervention in Libya by signing two memorandum of understanding between the Prime Minister of the GNA, Faiz al-Sarraj, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on November 27th, 2019. The first deal focuses on security and military cooperation, and the second redraw maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean,

Turkish forces were sent to Libya after the Turkish Parliament approved the deployment of troops in December 2019– a move that takes place according to the bilateral maritime jurisdiction signed on 27 November 2019 between Turkey and Tripoli, which authorizes the GNA in Tripoli to call for Turkish military weapons to use in its operations and open a space for Turkey to send its troops to Libya to fight in support for Tripoli a one-year mandate.

The Turkish intervention in Libya could contribute to doubling down an already-ignited conflict. Thus, in response to the bilateral agreement signed between Turkey and Tripoli’s recognized government, Libya’s eastern-based parliament has voted unanimously to sever relations with Ankara, and persecute Faiz al-Sarraj because he requested a foreign power’s military support. In this regard, Haftar’s LNA has been threatening to attack Turkish nationals and businesses in Libya and Turkish ships off the country’s coast.

Interestingly, many regional powers have been angered by the Turkish Intervention in the Libyan conflict.

Saudi Arabia has considered the Turkish move of dispatching troops to Libya a violation of UN Security Council decisions. Accordingly, it has largely condemned this motion, which was approved by the Turkish Parliament on 16 December 2019.

Egypt has rejected Turkish exploitation and stated that local parties playing a role in the conflict must promptly work to resolve it before Libya loses control of foreign actors. Thus, the Egyptian regime has denounced the Turkish move and warned against the looming ramifications of Turkey’s intervention in the Libyan issue. In this regard, Egypt’s noted anchors and media outlets are running a campaign of hatred against Turkey and its president. Additionally, Egypt considered the Turkish parliament’s approval of a resolution  to deploy Turkish forces to Libya is based on an invalid memorandum of understanding signed between Turkey and Tripoli- UN recognized government .” It also warned of the risks of any Turkish military intervention in Libya, which would destabilise the Mediterranean region and hold turkey accountable.

Turkey’s action towards Libya has infuriated its European neighbors who have already opposed its policy in the Mediterranean before. On 12 December, the EU rejected the maritime deal signed between Turkey and Tripoli’s recognized government, describing it as a “violation of international law” and expressing its support with Greece.

Additionally,  the UAE, which is one of Haftar’s strategic backers, launched a campaign of hatred against Turkey through its media outlets.

It is worth to mention that Turkey’s double-barreled policy to Libya is a reaction to its growing diplomatic isolation in the region. Turkey is at odds with the United States over its incursion into northern Syria. It also has disputes with Saudi Arabia according to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey. Turkey is in the opposite direction with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia in Libya.

Turkish intervention in Libya has its imminent ramifications that would destabilize a volatile region. Having become a penetrated arena for foreign’ actors interests, the Libyan condition is so dire. As each foreign actor, including Turkey, attempts to have a foothold in Libya to secure strategic goals, this may lead to proxy involvement and underestimate international mediation efforts. The escalation of Turkish intervention may also pave the way for a greater conflict that could affect Libya’s. Ankara’s sending weaponry to the GNA violates half a dozen UN resolutions calling on member states to abstain from sending any weapons to any conflicting party in Libya, particularly Resolutions 1970 and 1973, adopted in 2011, which obviously impose a military embargo on the country.

Finally, it is essential to highlight why Turkey jostles for influence in Libya. The Turkish intervention in Libya has served the interests of Turkey significantly. To illustrate, having Turkish presence in Libya protects turkey’s interests in the eastern Mediterranean, where it has been isolated by Egypt, Israel, Greece, Cyprus at the time they established the Gas forum that aimed at exploring oil and gas. In other words, the bilateral maritime deal between Turkey and the GNA  gives Turkey’s rights to large swathes of the Mediterranean where gas reserves have recently been discovered.  Also, Turkey’s intervention in Libya is crucial for it to be included in any discussion in the Mediterranean. Moreover, the intervention is ideologically and geopolitically important to Turkey due to Erdogan’s desire to support Islamist movements close to his own Justice and Development Party (AKP), and to boost his essential alliance with Qatar into the Northern Africa region. In line manner, Libya is commercially paramount to Turkey due to its abundant gas and oil natural resources and its rich licit and illicit gains.

In short, One can’t exclude the possibility that foreign powers’ intervention is running the risk of starting a greater conflict beyond Libya’s borders. The Turkish intervention may also set the country in another conflict on top of its intervention in Syria. To avoid this stepping up of Turkish and other foreign powers exploitation of Libya’s civil war. The US government should take serious and decisive steps to stop further intervention in Libya. These steps should include opposing foreign actors, that may contribute more in escalating the drone war, and punishing human rights aggressors. The US government should pressure all parts of conflict in Libya to halt their exchanged attacks, otherwise, the conflict would shift to an intractable proxy war.

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