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.