Egypt and allies seek to confront Turkish involvement in Libya
Turkey wants to send troops to Libya, giving it a foothold that will be difficult to reduce. The troops are likely part of a larger deal.
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Egypt is concerned by Turkey’s attempts to meddle in Libya after Ankara sought out an agreement between the two countries at sea and has hinted it may send troops to Tripoli.Libya has been in a brutal civil war since 2011 and is divided between a government in Tripoli and a western Libya government that backs Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army. Haftar is seeking to oust the Tripoli Government of the National Accord (GNA) from the capital, but Turkey appears ready to swoop in and either send troops or at least grab some economic resources off the coast at the expense of Libya.Turkey is now speaking with Russia in order to act as a player in Libya. Italy’s foreign minister says that Italy might hold talks with Turkey and Russia as well about dealing with the Libya conflict. Libya’s neighbors Tunisia and Egypt are not included. Now there are rumors of potential conflict in the Mediterranean, as Turkey pushes forward with economic claims off the coast of Cyprus. Turkey sent drones to northern Cyprus and harassed an Israeli scientific research ship, and it looks like the US might end an arms embargo on Cyprus, leading to more Turkish threats.Egypt has reached out to the UN after Turkey and Libya’s weakened Tripoli government signed a deal demarcating their Mediterranean boundaries. Greece and Cyprus were not included, nor were members of the LNA in Libya, which actually controls the coastline across from Turkey that Tripoli sought to demarcate.Greece is concerned, sending diplomats to discuss the issue with Gulf states and other sympathetic ears. It knows that Turkey wants to send troops to Libya, to give it a foothold that will be difficult to reduce. The troops are likely part of a larger deal whereby Libya’s Tripoli government gave away sea rights so that it can get diplomatic and military support from Turkey. The goal will be a long-term Turkish role. Turkey has bases in Qatar and Somalia and sought to lease an island in Sudan. Turkey wants a huge swath of the Mediterranean, and having forces in Libya gives it an excuse to patrol back and forth.Turkey is seeking to talk to Moscow with a high-level delegation in coming weeks. That would mean Russia and Turkey could sign a deal on Libya, as they did on northern Syria, with Russia becoming a guarantor of how things develop in Syria. Russia ostensibly had worked with the LNA in the past, but it wants to be a broker of various conflicts, filling the vacuum left by the US and Europe.Egypt’s message in Egyptian media is that the Tripoli government it called “Al-Wafeq” violates UN agreements. Cairo claims Tripoli is run by militias and sees its government as being eroded by the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to instability and chaos. Egypt’s leadership is also hostile to the Brotherhood.AdvertisementUnsurprisingly, Turkey is close to the Brotherhood. This is why Turkey wants to be in Libya: to balance Egypt and not give either Egypt or the UAE – which also back Haftar – a win. Instead, Turkey and its allies in Qatar want a win, just as they’ve wanted while hosting Hamas over the last weeks. The goal is to show their power and influence. Qatar has the money; Turkey has the power and ambition.Russia’s TASS news agency says that Turkey’s involvement in Libya could result in a conflict according to Nezavismaya Gazeta. It notes that Turkey and the GNA, or Tripoli government, signed a defense agreement in November. There are rumors of Russians in western Libya working with Haftar or on other projects.Egypt’s Al-Ahram argues that in the face of Turkish “hegemonic ambitions,” Greece and Egypt must work closely to solidify cooperation and strategic relations.Israel is caught in the middle. Turkey’s leadership is harshly critical of Israel, comparing the country to Nazi Germany. Israel wants access to a pipeline that might be constructed across the Mediterranean toward Italy. Israel also wants to export natural gas to Egypt, but could also do it via Turkey or Greece and Cyprus.The Daily Sabah in Turkey has pushed the notion that Israel and Turkey could cooperate, but the current political issues keep Turkey and Israel far apart. Israel and Egypt have more shared interests in security in Sinai and Gaza, and other interests in the Mediterranean. These are complex issues because Qatar is also involved in funding Hamas in Gaza and all these considerations are interconnected.The overall picture, though, is of Turkey pushing itself into Libya so that it has a greater say in any final deal over the country. It will use the same tactics it did to move into northern Syria, and use the same leverage it has over Europe to get Germany or Italy or other states to agree.