One of the many complexities that characterise the Libyan conflict is the myriad of international actors with intertwined interests that play a part in supporting the different warring factions. One of the main players in this chessboard is Turkey, one of the most important supporters and arguably the main arms provider of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). In this context, Ankara has a public military agreement with the Tripoli-based authorities despite the ongoing arms embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) since 2011. Even though President Recep Tayyip Erdogan argues that there is nothing illegal in this deal, as the GNA is the UN-recognised and thus the legitimate government of Libya, many countries have criticised Turkey’s involvement. Therefore, the question that comes forward is, what is in stake for Turkey in Libya?
Overall, Turkey’s ambition to become a regional power in the Middle East has been jeopardised by its frictions with several major Arab states, most notably Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt, with only Qatar being Ankara’s close ally in the Gulf region. In this context, President Erdogan’s strategy in the region is to attempt to gravitate as many Arab countries as possible under his realm, making Libya an excellent candidate to bolster his camp. In this sense, Libya has become another camp in the ongoing ideological war between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE against Qatar and Turkey. The latter since the beginning of the Arab Spring have sponsored the idea of political Islam, often supporting groups affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has brought them at odds with the Saudi camp.
As such, considering that Libya National Army’s (LNA) leader Khalifa Haftar is a staunch detractor of political Islam, he has gained the support of the Saudi camp, thus placing a clear line between the LNA/Saudi axis and the GNA/Turkish axis.
As part of its foreign policy strategy, Turkey has been increasingly using its military power as a tool, with military bases in Qatar and Somalia, and its activities in Sudan, thus its current involvement supporting the UN-recognised government, is perceived by Turkey as a way to establish a military presence there in the near future. Additionally, historically speaking, Turkey had notable commercial ties with Libya during the Qaddafi times, with billions of dollars in investments as well as a sizeable number of Turkish nationals operating in Libya. Given its already established economic assets in the country, it seems natural that Ankara may want to maintain its influence in Libya in order to take a leading role not only in the country's reconstruction efforts but also as a leading economic partner in the long term.
Whether Turkey’s strategy in Libya will bear fruits in the near future remains an open question, nonetheless what it is for sure is that Ankara’s involvement in the conflict, as well as the other international actors' interest, adds another layer of complexity in reaching a solution.