All attention has been focused recently on Turkey’s moves in the Mediterranean – namely preempting a Greek-Cypriot-Israeli-Egyptian agreement to construct a gas pipeline through Greece into Europe by staking out economic zones, and an enhanced military agreement to more assertively back the Tripoli-based GNA and possibly send troops to Libya. The agreements have been described as a “desperate bid” to reshape the region in Turkey’s favour by merging together two separate crises. On this we and others have written extensively over the past two weeks.
Turkey’s moves were clear and even clever, if not brazen. Repercussions were soon to follow. Already, in the days following the announcement, Greece expelled Libya’s ambassador to Athens, issued a complaint at the UN and coalesced the EU around its position and against Turkey. Mostly recently, the Greek parliament said it was recognising the Tobruk House of Representatives as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. Meanwhile, Egypt has similarly made its disapproval known, including by conducting naval exercises in the Mediterranean and announcing it was going to "loan" the LNA additional tanks. Similarly, Cyprus recently spoke with regional leaders, including the King of Jordan, regarding the situation and ensuring his support.
Basically, Turkey found itself isolated in the region. We can all guess how this will play out from Turkey’s end, and most commentators have focused on Turkey’s motives and options – is it bluffing? Will it back down and seek a diplomatic solution? Or is it Turkey vs. quite literally everyone else, including the Israelis who are allied with Greece, Egypt and Cyprus closely on this issue?
What few have written about is the GNA. It is clear, and almost doesn’t warrant mentioning, that the GNA is desperate for allies. The international community officially recognises Tripoli, but far more countries actively back the LNA than do the GNA. Moreover, since Russian mercenaries have joined the fighting in late summer, reportedly, the LNA seems to be closing in fast around Tripoli, Misrata and other major GNA militia strongholds. We should say that is highly likely that it was not the GNA that wanted these agreements, but Turkey taking advantage of the GNA’s desperation for allies to suck it into this questionable Mediterranean gambit.
However, what the GNA perhaps did not take into account was that the Turkish move has, in effect, isolated the GNA as well, and may even be leading to the GNA losing its much-prized international recognition, really its only asset in this conflict. Already this week, Greece’s Foreign Minister visited Benghazi, Haftar is set to visit Athens in coming days, and the Greek parliament said it was recognising the Tobruk government and not Tripoli.
Moreover, Greek media reports are talking about a Greek and Egyptian naval coalition to “protect Libya’s territorial waters and confront any ships carrying both weapons and Jihadists, as well as Turkish army troops from Turkey to Libya. LNA naval forces are already harassing Turkish naval vessels in Libyan waters
The Greek move to openly receive Haftar and recognise Tobruk could signal a sea shift in European policy to the Libyan crisis. This is a development well worth following. It may just be that in its desperation to hold on to its only real backer in this crisis, Turkey, the GNA got sucked into a regional power struggle in which it was never really involved but will definitely pay the price.
For its part, the GNA should carefully consider what will help it survive – calling on Turkish military support or keeping its international legitimacy and recognition – because it doesn’t seem realistic it can have both. Ahead of the upcoming Berlin Summit, the GNA should take advantage of this small window where it continues to maintain international recognition and reach a diplomatic solution with Tobruk and the LNA. Continued fighting with Turkish backing will lead to a loss of legitimacy, while continued fighting without Turkish backing is bordering on the impossible.
The Wall Street Journal suggests that after reaching a military agreement with Russia regarding northern Syria, Turkey seems to be working to convince Moscow to cooperate in a similar manner in Libya as well.
The Turkish government is set to host Russian President Putin in the coming weeks (January 8), in order to discuss Libya, Syria and other foreign policy matters. Both countries see Libya as a strategic prize and are seeking to project their influence on the country, which is strategically located and has vast oil reserves. It was also once, and would be again, a valuable arms consumer for the two exporters.
Despite the military agreement and possibility that Turkey will send forces, partly to counter the influence of Russian mercenaries fighting for the opposition LNA, Turkey is wary of slipping into a full proxy war against Russia, so claims the WSJ. Rather, Turkey is like to try to establish a coordination mechanism with Russia to avoid confrontation. This could be to ensure Russian forces avoid targeting Turkish personnel on the ground, and possibly even to get Russia to withdraw its mercenaries, which it denies having connection to.
The article suggests, drawing on various analysts, that Russia, for its part, might be tempted to try to "lure" the NATO member out of the Western orbit fully and into Russia's orbit. Turkey has had increasing tensions with the US and Europe in recent years, and recently received advanced Russian missile defence technologies, something which has upset the US.
Analyst Jalel Harchaeoi, a Libya expert, suggested that Erdogan's bluster in recent months over Libya is more posturing than anything, ahead of his meeting with Putin. At most, Turkey might send its own version of Wagner, SADAT International Defence Consultancy, a private defence contractor, that could allow Turkey to increase its involvement with some deniability, much as Russia is doing.
This is certainly an interesting development, if it pans out, and one the US, Europe and the Arab world must be cautious. Russia and Turkey have already succeeded in carving up Syria for their own interests, and to Syria's detriment. If they seek to do the same in Libya, this would only bring more instability, as much as if the two seriously fought a proxy war through the two parties in the ongoing conflict.
Either situation reflects a lack of commitment and urgency on the part of the international community with much at stake. A scenario in which Turkey and Russia continue driving the conflict could drive out less committed foreign actors, allowing the two powers to "divide the spoils" the day after, with Russia taking energy contracts and Turkey reconstruction, perhaps, and both taking advantage of Libya's position to leverage Europe. The US and European powers, together with the Arab world, must work to limit Russia and Turkey's growing involvement, and push all sides to reach a diplomatic solution.
The Middle East affairs columnist at The Independent, Ahmed Aboudouh, wrote yesterday that Turkey's moves in Libya and the region are "risking a major Mediterranean conflict". Turkish President Erdogan is "upping the ante" in Libya, including through sending drones, armoured vehicles, special forces and even commando units, to "create a single strategic deadlock" between two ongoing conflicts - the one in Libya and the fight for natural resources in the Eastern Med.
The author further claims that Erdogan is doing this to distract from his worsening political status at home, as Turkey's Syria incursion falters - and has chosen Libya as the theatre. Erodgan's announcement about a beefed-up defence agreement, including the possibility of sending troops, along with the shared maritime border with the GNA, is meant to do just this.
It is on this point that we will only partially agree with Aboudouh. As we pointed out in a previous commentary on Turkey's motivations in Libya, Turkey is seeking to establish itself regionally, to challenge Europe, balance Russian ambitions, and win lucrative construction and energy contracts. Thus, Aboudouh's point is correct but only part of the picture. Where the author is spot-on however, is by pointing out that in doing so, Erdogan has "infuriated most of his neighbours" in the process.
Haftar's renewed push on Tripoli came in reaction to this GNA agreement with Ankara. Perhaps, sensing Turkey might tip the scales, Haftar felt his window of opportunity to take Tripoli was closing fast. Perhaps Russia's recent increase in support had enough of an effect. That is, Russia upped its support, maybe ahead of a UN push to end the conflict... Turkey and GNA respond with a defence pact.... and now Haftar backed by UAE, Egypt and others makes his big (and final?) push for Tripoli. No doubt Egypt's sending tanks (on lease no less) to Libya, and conducting naval manoeuvres are messages to Turkey.
The last five years, Aboudouh continues, saw Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt make major gas discoveries in the neighbourhood, leading the group to form the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, of which, Turkey was excluded. This move, in some ways, is Erdogan's form of payback to his regional rivals. However, Erdogan's redrawing of economic zone boundaries, that ignore Crete, as well as his glossing over of Cyprus' sovereignty, are truly creative. Aboudouh also claims they violate the Tripoli government's legitimacy too. Greece has filed a complaint at the UN, and the EU is protesting.
The biggest blunder Erdogan might make, according to Aboudouh, is if he decides to establish a military base in Libya. Given the relatively short distance between the two, its not clear why Turkey needs this. It is here we have to agree, at least in part, with Aboudouh. He points out, astutely, that domestic political opposition to Erdogan is growing and fast, as former senior political figures are forming new parties to challenge Erdogan and the AKP. Thus, Erdogan seems to be using a well known playbook to divert popular opinion - get involved in a foreign conflict. That is partly why he invaded Syria. However, in Syria, Erdogan was able to find an understanding with Russia, and much of the region is less invested. Syria is also conveniently on Turkey's border. It will be much harder to convince the Turkish voter that sending troops to Libya is worth the trouble, especially when so many in the region are directly opposed.
Aboudouh goes on to claim that Erdogan might even be seeking to take advantage of Washington's rivalry with Moscow, as Russia cements its presence in Libya for the day after, to have control of oil infrastructure. Since Haftar does not seem to have international support, Turkey will be the legitimate international power that can bring order to Libya, and gain Western legitimacy in being a counter-balance to Russia.
Aboudouh does not think Turkey is bluffing, even if this move is folly, and calls on Egypt and Greece to stand strong in the face of Erdogan's gamble, and avoid getting dragged into the major conflict he might be seeking.
If Aboudouh's assessment is correct, and this entire move is intended to bolster Erdogan's status at home, and help shore up his claims to Mediterranean energy stores, this is doubly so. The international community must present a coherent front to bring an end to the fighting in Libya. The GNA seems to lack the power or legitimacy to do so, especially if it becomes a Turkish puppet. But so does Haftar, even if he has more regional legitimacy. Its time the international powers, especially the US, Europe and the Arab countries, block the various foreign powers from further interference, and agree on a consensus figure that can unite and effectively govern.
Alongside the more talked about agreement regarding maritime borders, Turkey and Libya’s GNA also signed a military cooperation agreement, which builds on previous relations between the two regarding military cooperation, intelligence sharing, training, education, the legal framework behind the cooperation and strengthening the overall ties between the two governments.
Turkish president Erdogan says his country continues to push for a peaceful solution to the conflict and hopes other international actors will follow suit. This agreement, he claims should be seen as contributing to Libya’s stability, in that Turkey will assist Libya’s government in reforming its security mechanisms, to help restore order and return to a political solution.
However, Erdogan added something else that caused significant concern in the region over the past week, and perhaps rightfully so: that he is willing to send troops to assist the GNA, were he to receive a request to do so. This invitation would also exempt Turkey, he claims, from violating UNSC resolutions on foreign involvement in the conflict.
The New York Times described Libya as a “strategic prize with vast oil reserves and a long Mediterranean coastline”. Libya has also turned into a departure point for migrants and refugees fleeing Africa to reach Europe, something Europe wants to stop and Russia seeks to influence as another point of leverage on Europe. Libya has also become a regional hub for Islamic militants and instability, something regional powers surely wish to control and limit from spreading to their own countries.
In recent months, and as the fighting seemed to be reaching a stalemate during the summer, Russia began increasing its military support for the side that seemed to be winning – Haftar’s LNA. That also happens to be the side that has taken a clear “anti-Islamist” stance, and has positioned itself to be the west’s bulwark against the rise of ISIS in Libya. Thus, Russia first helped “tip the scales” with equipment, cash printing, diplomatic support and is now supplying front-line mercenaries that are shifting the outcome of the war. There are some who think it could come to an end in the coming months.
Russia’s involvement, and now Turkey possibly upgrading its own involvement, adds a new element to the conflict. Turkey, as has been widely reported, is the main backer for the GNA. It supplies arms and even is said to operate its drones for the GNA in the conflict. But unlike the LNA, which we now know has Sudanese and Chadian troops, some on the front lines, and now Russian mercenaries, the GNA does not have such backing from a foreign power. There are rumours that Turkish mercenaries are fighting, to some extent, for the GNA. Nevertheless, were Erdogan to send combat forces, this could lead to an even bigger escalation: other international powers would certainly follow suit. This would also almost certainly exacerbate the already high tensions between Turkey and the EU. And, it would most certainly spike tensions with Russia, who backs the LNA, and would have repercussions for Turkey in Syria.
As all this unfolded, LNA air forces reportedly destroyed a large Turkish arms shipment to the GNA in Misrata (Misrata’s Air Academy), including ammunition, armoured vehicles and other military equipment.
Why does Turkey care so much about Libya that it is willing to risk a regional escalation? For one, Turkey has long sought to position itself as a major Mediterranean power. The vacuum that opened up in Libya allows Turkey to do so, and gain an advantage on Europe. Russia’s like-minded effort complicates things for Ankara. Second, Turkey already sells arms to Tripoli, and is vying already now for day-after reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will likely be lucrative. Russia is too. Thirdly, Turkey’s Islamist-leaning government no doubt sympathises with Serraj and the GNA, who are also Islamic leaning. Haftar, conversely, has styled himself fully in the vein of secular strongmen like el-Sissi. Lastly, as Turkey needs Libya’s support to back its Mediterranean power-play on gas reserves, using creative diplomacy to chart a common maritime border between the two.
There is no doubt, moreover, that unlike in Syria, where Turkey can reasonably claim its involvement is to create stability along its border, Erdogan will have a more difficult case to make that his move is little more than a naked regional power grab, as he competes for influence with the Russians, Emiratis and others. Such a move might even tip the balance and draw the Americans more forcefully into the conflict. Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi already said, in response, that foreign powers should stop interfering, and hinted that were Turkey to send troops, Egypt might do so, as it had avoided intervening until now in the conflict (Egypt has backed the LNA and provided some air support until now).
These moves, some see, as a part of more general Turkish assertiveness (some claim aggression) in the region, that includes moves in Kurdish Syria, the Mediterranean agreement with Libya, and even the rumours surrounding the US Air Force limiting its presence at Incirlik Air Base in recent weeks. One news outlet claims this is the US moving its nuclear weapons out of Incirlik as the tensions continue to rise with Ankara.
Turkey would be advised to exercise caution in the region. Its Mediterranean gambit, whether justified or not, is already having far-reaching implications for Turkey – and by extension – the GNA’s relationship with other regional powers. Direct Turkish military involvement in Libya could fully tip those scales and cause a full internationalisation of the conflict – something that Libya certainly doesn’t need and Ankara probably doesn’t want.
We are used to discussing foreign involvement in Libya in terms of which side is benefiting – GNA or LNA. Classic thinking about military conflicts tends to be zero-sum in this regard. Increase support for one side, it wins over the other. Conflict over. Or not. Jump to Libya.
Embedded with GNA fighters in Tripoli, journalist Frederic Wehrey, writing for Foreign Policy Magazine, has noticed the on-the-ground implications of Russia’s growing involvement on Haftar’s side. As the two sides have reached a stalemate, in part due to Turkey and the UAE having rushed in, the “deck was shuffled” again in September as Russian mercenaries began arriving by the hundreds to help the LNA. Wehrey describes significant improvements in the use of attack drones, mortars, advanced anti-tank missiles and especially snipers, bringing a level of professionalism the conflict had not previously known.
He warns that this Russian assistance, however, may come with a price tag. The United States started taking notice recently, and began condemning this involvement specifically. Congress is looking to place bi-partisan sanctions on the Russian contractors.
Wehrey is encouraged by this new, more assertive US position after months of ambivalence, where it wasn’t clear which side the US backed. Officially, the US and State Department were backing the GNA, but after Trump’s phone call to Haftar in April, who claimed to be leading the fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda, this was no longer certain.
Wehrey noted that the effect of the Russians has been to sow distrust and panic among the various GNA militias, who were already not under any unified command. The effect, on the ground, is the tearing of the social fabric of the country, more and more as each day passes. There are already over 140,000 internally displaced persons by the fighting. In areas controlled by the GNA, social services barely function, not that they functioned well before. And, as fighting continues, the various corrupt militias taking control of the areas grow bolder. At the same time, the LNA and its use of airpower has shown little sensitivity to differentiating between civilian and military targets.
The author calls for a more resolute and clear US diplomacy. The recent meetings by a senior US delegation with GNA officials, followed by meetings with Haftar pressing him to accept a cease fire, are a good start. But Haftar has shown little incentive to stop his efforts. The US, says Wehrey, must convince the various foreign powers to stop their military support, especially the UAE, Turkey and Russia, all seeking to make themselves the power brokers in the region.
The danger, Wehrey suggests, is not that the GNA will collapse and Haftar will take over Tripoli and the environs. Far from it, Wehrey suggests, rather, that the urban areas will descend into vicious, block-by-block fighting that will rip Libya apart further. The GNA will not give up so quickly, as they are not under unified command rather are disparate and passionate militias.
Haftar’s offensive, backed by Russia’s advanced capabilities, are bad news for Libya. Haftar will seek to coopt some militias in Tripoli and import his management style – stoking communal tensions in some places, and strongman dictatorship methods in others. This will only encourage a continued insurgency and perhaps may even give new life to ISIS and other Salafist groups to regroup and continue fighting. This would be ironic indeed, given Haftar’s selling himself as the one who will fight off ISIS.
Back to our opening thought. If we take Wehrey’s suggestion and flesh it out, what may happen is that given Russian backing, rather than having one side reach a decisive victory in Libya, the LNA’s new advantage could see a crumbling of the GNA but not of the militias that comprise it. Thus, we could see the conflict dragging on in Tripoli itself in a far more chaotic fashion. Moreover, this could allow for a resurgence of ISIS and ISIS like groups, something neither side wishes to see bounce back.
As Russia seems intent on stoking further violence, perhaps the US and various European or NATO powers, must work more decisively to end the conflict. This starts by getting the Russians, Emiratis and Turks on board first and pressuring all sides for a diplomatic and political solution.
Last week, once again, Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) had to shut down production of the El Feel oil field due to fighting in the vicinity between GNA and LNA forces. The fighting, including LNA airstrikes, that did not end up harming the significant oil infrastructure or employees, bit did however force the NOC to shut down production for one day, until all fighters cleared out from the area. This means Libya produced and exported 73,000 barrels less than it does most days.
Only a short time after, Libya had to shut down production again as the pipeline from El Feel to Mellitah had been interrupted due to an “unlawful valve closure”, a “criminal attempt”, according to NOC Chair Sanallah.
When fighting began anew in April, Libya’s largest oil field, Sharara, had to be shut down a number of times in one August, causing national production to dip below 1 million barrels per day, the lowest level in months.
Sannallah, has, it seems at times almost had to beg the two warring sides to leave Libya’s oil infrastructure out of the fighting, that they are a vital source of revenue for the country. Indeed, even with the years of conflict and lack of investment, Libya still produces closet to 1.12 million barrels per day, according to OPEC figures.
After last week’s airstrikes, Sanallah had to “remind all parties that Libya’s oil and gas fields are vital sources of revenues for the benefit of all Libyans”… and that “they must not be treated as military targets.”
It seems as though this should not have to be said. If there is one factor that has remained stable throughout the years of fighting, and one thing that can carry Libya economically through the continued fighting, is its oil sector. It is clear, and we have written in the past, that much of what is driving foreign intervention in Libya is the various international and regional powers jockeying for day-after position to win lucrative oil and infrastructure projects. But for the most part, the two warring sides have managed to stay clear of all-out fighting over the fields. The last thing Libyans want is a 1991 Saddam Hussein style scorched-earth of oil fields that only wreaks havoc and benefits nobody. No matter which side of this conflict one supports, we should all agree that nobody touch the oil fields.
A recent op-ed contribution in Forbes by two American Libya experts (Ethan Chorin and Dirk Vandewalle) in Forbes has caused some stir on social media. We thought it worthwhile to explore what was said.
The authors suggest that Libya should be atop the agenda at the upcoming NATO Summit in London, since “what happens next in Libya is immediately relevant to core NATO interests including combating terrorism, addressing Europe’s migrant crisis, curbing Russian opportunism in the Middle East and assuring the long-term viability of the Alliance itself.”
The authors recall that in the 2011 overthrow of Ghaddafi, in which NATO intervened, “many hoped that Libya would be a bright spot among the Arab revolutions.” However, the US’ and NATO’s “hands-off approach” only “encouraged states like Turkey and Qatar” to influence the democratic process in favour of Islamists, which, when Libyans became aware of this, were “powerless to stop it”.
The authors point out that it was Haftar and the LNA who, “through a bloody war of attrition freed Benghazi from the ISIS-Al Qaeda grip in 2016”. Haftar created the LNA to fight ISIS in 2016. Although, they claim, this was “popular within large parts of Libya, the international community has spurned Haftar as yet another authoritarian strongman and backed a UN-built political agreement, which arbitrarily took authority from an elected government and put it the hands of an unelected and still unratified body, hoping it would rubber-stamp Western air attacks on the emergent Libyan franchise of the Islamic State, and solve the migrant issue.”. The authors go on to claim that, “It did neither: US strikes were largely ineffective, and the refugee crisis eased only when Italy paid human traffickers… to keep migrants in Libya under appalling conditions.”
Haftar’s efforts have since shifted from Benghazi to Tripoli. It is here, the authors point out, that the international community, even within NATO, has become divided and inconsistent. Thus, France is seen as backing Haftar, along with most Arab states, especially Egypt and the Gulf. The EU, especially Italy, Turkey and Qatar back the GNA, while the UN continues to call for a ceasefire. And of course, although the US officially backs the GNA, there have been more than a few signs it is considering a policy shift. Within this mess, Russia is exploiting the vacuum to advance its own goals, sending mercenaries to back Haftar while maintaining contacts with Tripoli.
The authors claim that it was Haftar who did “NATO’s dirty work” in dealing with the various militias, although “few are willing to state the obvious”. Thus, if Haftar ends up taking control, many will assume he had the West’s backing, and NATO and the West will have limited leverage. Haftar, they suggest, has done his job to bring order to a chaotic Libya, but most Libyans do not want another strongman in charge. Haftar himself has been less clear over what he plans to do next, even if he insists on handing off power to a civilian government. The West should hold Haftar to this promise.
The authors call for NATO to take advantage of the current opportunity to intervene in Libya, in order to bring stability, address the migrant crisis, deal with terrorism and block Russia’s expansionist efforts. This is crucial given Libya’s geostrategic importance to NATO. They can do this by:
An unexpected and puzzling diplomatic agreement has stirred tensions and clarified shifting alliances in the Eastern Mediterranean.
This past week, Libya’s Tripoli-based GNA signed a puzzling diplomatic agreement with Turkey regarding determining maritime borders between the two countries. They also signed a deal to expand their military cooperation, as Turkey has been the main international power arming the UN-recognised GNA during the ongoing fighting. The accord was announced by Turkey, and comes at a time of growing tensions between Ankara and Athens / Cairo / Nicosia over energy drilling rights in the Mediterranean. That is, as Turkey conducts exploration near the coast of Turkish Cyprus, the EU is preparing financial sanctions against Turkey in response, and Greece recently signed over exploration rights to an international consortium off the coast of Crete. Turkey’s move was meant to head off these efforts and cement its claim to these resources.
In the background, there are also internal NATO tensions as Turkey seems to be conditioning its support for a defence plan involving the Baltic states on receiving NATO backing for its operations against Kurdish militants in Syria.
Turkey, in recent years, has searched for allies, finding itself increasingly isolated as it seeks to assert greater regional influence. Libya’s GNA also finds itself somewhat isolated. Despite having official UN and EU recognition, it watched as many regional powers shifted their favor to Haftar and the Tobruk government, especially since Haftar positioned himself as an anti-Islamist (and portrays the GNA as pro-Islamist), and when it seemed clear he was set to take Tripoli in April.
Greece and Egypt, whose territorial waters are situated between Libya and Turkey, rejected the agreement. According to Greece’s foreign minister, it “ignores something that is blatantly obvious, which is that between those two countries there is…Crete…. Consequently, such an attempt borders on the absurd.” Egypt, which has long been at odds with Turkey, also condemned the deal. The two countries currently back the respective sides in Libya’s ongoing conflict.
Meanwhile, Cyprus, whose territorial waters also run between Libya and Turkey, was likewise opposed. Turkey, which occupies northern Cyprus, does not recognise Cyprus as a state nor its rights to its territorial waters and resources there. According to Turkish media, the Turkish-Libyan agreement came as a way for Turkey to preempt a Greek-Cypriot-Egyptian mechanism in the Mediterranean that would have effectively shut Turkey out from having a share of natural resources. The paper claims this was a Greek effort to isolate Turkey regionally. Turkey, having rushed to cement its agreement with Libya, upended those plans.
To be sure, Turkey’s arguments regarding maritime borders and economic zones are not entirely baseless. It essentially argues that some of the islands lying between itself and Libya lack a continental shelf, and are therefore not entitled to economic zones. It further argues that it should have a share of these resources, and since it lies diagonally to the Mediterranean, it sets maritime borders and economic zones differently.
While Turkey seeks any kind of international backing for its claims territorial claims, Libya’s GNA seeks access to crucial military support in the continued fighting. It may also be reading the diplomatic winds and trying to shore up much needed support ahead of possible international diplomatic conference that would force some kind of compromise. The two sides saw an opportunity for mutual benefit, or, as more than one observer suggests, Turkey conditioned its continued support on Tripoli’s backing for this maneuver. It is interesting that in light of the UN arms embargo, and at a time when Turkey is relatively isolated, it chooses to pursue such open military support of the GNA. This could be a blow to international efforts, especially the much talked about Berlin summit, to bring a diplomatic end to the fighting. For this, Germany and other powers will have to get Turkey and Qatar on one side, and Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia on the other, as well as Russia, to stop fuelling the respective parties.
With this in mind, it becomes slightly clearer why Turkey would risk stoking tensions, and why the GNA would go along with such a move, that could bring EU and regional pressure against it. The two sides are essentially desperate.
Greece has already summoned the Libyan Ambassador for clarifications, the same day that the Greek foreign minister flew to discuss the matter with his Egyptian counterpart, according to Egyptian news.
Although not likely a key factor, no doubt Ankara is likely jockeying for a better day after position, as far as winning lucrative energy, infrastructure and construction projects, much as are all the other international powers involved. Turkey likely assessed that such an agreement in place would help it cement its position.
However, we want to point out two other, more minor but interesting developments no less from the same day.
The first regards broader regional developments. The Tobruk government’s foreign minister, Abdul Hadi Al-Howeej, in a somewhat strange interview with an Israeli newspaper, floated the idea that Libya (under Haftar’s control) would seek to normalise relations with Israel, once Palestinian rights are addressed. The statement in itself is not so strange – many Arab and Muslim countries have moved toward normalisation with Israel in recent years, most notably the Gulf states, while Egypt and Jordan maintain full peace treaties.
However, why now? Some analysts, such as Emadeddin Badi, suggest that the Tobruk government’s outreach to Israel could be connected to the growing Greek, Cypriot, and Israeli energy alliance regarding eastern Mediterranean gas resources. Jalel Harchaoui, in Al Monitor, also discussed this option, suggesting that the Turkish move was directly related to Turkey’s isolation from the Eastern Med Gas Forum, which includes Greece, Cyprus and Israel, along with Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Italy. Libya’s Tobruk government, which has strong ties to Egypt and Jordan already, is therefore, possibly seeking to firmly insert itself into this growing Mediterranean divide. An isolated Turkey is on one side of this divide, and since Turkey supports Tripoli’s GNA, it only makes sense that Tobruk and Haftar want to firmly attach themselves to the Greek-Egyptian-Israeli side of this alliance. And Haftar already has ties to Egypt and Jordan.
One other headline was also buried in all these developments. While Athens summoned Libya’s (GNA) ambassador to show its disapproval, it also held meetings the same day with Aref al-Nayed, the former Libyan ambassador to the UAE, a leading Islamic scholar, and someone we have mentioned here recently as trying to position himself to take power as a consensus figure. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Greece would meet with Nayed on this matter. Perhaps this means Nayed is succeeding in positioning himself as the de-facto political consensus figure for the LNA side. Perhaps it signals something bigger however – as the military conflict seems to be stalled with no clear winner in sight, perhaps the regional powers are starting to view Nayed as the political figure who can take off from where Haftar stopped.
It might be a reach, but its worth following. In any case, this Turkish move just clarified some important understandings of who is on whose side in the Libyan conflict and where things could be headed in the coming months.