Despite the bluster and posturing in recent weeks, including pushing forth a controversial bi-lateral agreement to send troops to Libya, there are signs Erdogan actually may be seeking a diplomatic way forward rather than a military one.
Erdogan has accused Haftar of pushing the conflict and breaking the ceasefire multiple times. Most recently, Erdogan noted about Haftar “he says he agreed to a cease-fire but two days subsequent he bombed the airport. So how can we trust him?”.
Erdogan insists on continuing to support the GNA, despite the UN embargo, claiming Turkey is training the GNA’s forces only. "Our soldiers are there to assist in the training [of GNA forces]. We have a history of 500 years, and we have an invitation [from the GNA] that gives us our right," he added. Turkey’s defence minister Aktar has also noted that the main goal of Turkey’s forces is training, and that there are only a few dozen in the country. Aktar and Erdogan did not mention, of course, Turkey having sent some 2000 Syrian mercenaries to Libya in recent weeks.
Many were initially concerned that Turkey’s increased military involvement could trigger a wider regional conflict, especially with Turkey’s traditional regional rival Egypt, which happens to back rival Haftar and the LNA. Erdogan’s initial comments seemed especially bellicose, mostly his vowing to “teach Haftar a lesson” should he break the ceasefire. However, military experts, including from Turkey, have pointed out that Turkey actually has only a limited capability to send significant combat forces, given that it is 2000 km away, given the lack of Turkish allies en-route, and that its forces are already stretched thin in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, were Turkey to begin taking casualties, it would make the move even more unpopular domestically.
All this, and given Haftar’s current military superiority and Turkey’s increasing regional isolation, it only makes sense that Erdogan is quietly changing his tone from war to diplomacy. His challenge now will be to convince other regional and international powers to change their tune from backing Haftar to pressuring him. However, Erdogan might find some difficulty in achieving this challenge, showing perhaps, just how much the other regional powers are wary of growing Turkish (and Russian) influence in the region.