Turkish policy analyst Sinen Ulgen, currently at Carnegie, writes that “Erdogan is taking a big gamble in Libya” since Turkey’s military assistance to the GNA exposes it to new risks. Ankara’s aim, he claims, is to achieve a military stalemate and force a political settlement. The question, however, is will this plan work in a “crowded field” with Egypt, the UA and Russia operating in favor of the LNA.
Ulgen explains that Turkey is motivated by a desire to protect its bilateral agreement regarding maritime borders, which allow it to claim economic exploration rights near Crete and Cyprus. Turkey and Greece, he notes, have been in negotiations over resources for decades with no solution. Turkey’s support for Muslim Brotherhood allied regimes has led to a regional rift between it and Egypt and Israel, who are aligned with Greece over the natural resources against Turkey. Therefore, Turkey had to break its isolation and give its claims some legitimacy. The GNA’s quid-pro-quo, he claims, was the second agreement for increased military support.
However, according to Ulgen, Turkey’s military engagement is the price it pays for the failure of its regional politics, which could jeopardise Turkey’s long-term geopolitical interests. Turkey essentially has to major challenges. The first is that unlike in Syria, there is little domestic support for a military campaign in Libya – only 34% of Turks polled are in favour while 58% are opposed. Thus a protracted campaign with Turkish casualties could cost Erdogan dearly. Second, Turkey does not have the military capacity to operate far from home, and will have difficulty establishing supply routes with rival Egypt next door. It also won’t be able to establish air superiority in comparison to UAE and Egyptian air power, that are able to use nearby Egypt as a staging base. Turkish UAV’s are no match for this.
Turkey seems aware of these limitations and is therefore showing it is intent on sending non-combatant advisers along with Syrian mercenaries – who can be effective in combat against other mercenaries and militias.
To preempt an Egyptian and Emirati escalation, Turkey seems to be working with Russia to push for a cease-fire on January 12. However, time will tell if Cairo or Abu Dhabi cooperate, and they are more influential over Haftar than is Russia. For this strategy to succeed, Turkey will have to prove its commitment is credible and military capabilities effective enough.