Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Known for his controversies and pugnacious attitude, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t exert much effort to change that image. Turkey has sent a new batch of Syrian mercenaries to relieve another batch of 140 who flew back to their home country. These mercenaries pledge allegiance to, and are financed by, Turkey. The London-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights reported that 150 new Syrian mercenaries arrived in Tripoli last Friday.

The mercenaries represented pro-Turkish militias such as the Al-Majd Corps, Sultan Murad and al-Hamza militias. Despite Turkey’s withdraw of mercenaries last October they were soon replaced. These maneuvers came after talks with Egyptian authorities, who stressed that withdrawal of all pro-Turkish mercenaries from Libya was necessary before normalization of diplomatic relations. Relations deteriorated in 2013 following the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammad Morsi, and eventually resulting in Egypt expelling the Turkish ambassador in Cairo.

Egypt supports the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar while Turkey supports the former Islamist government led by former Prime Minister Fayez al- Sarraj and still maintains a sizeable military presence in western Libya.

Turkey has repeatedly violated the UN arms embargo on Libya and as a result received sanctions from the European Union. The Turkish decision was taken despite the international demands led by the United Nations for the full withdrawal of all mercenaries from Libyan soil to pave way for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held on Dec 24.

Erdogan met the interim Prime Minister of the Libyan Government of National Unity (GNU) AbdulHamid Dbeibah early November to discuss further increase of the number of Turkish army personnel in Libya.

Dbeibah who once vowed not to run for president, is now running for the position in the December elections. He seeks Turkish political and military support against Haftar who also declared his nomination for presidency.

Dbeibah broke the Libyan rules for presidential nominations which stipulates that he should step down from his position as interim Prime Minister three months prior to elections. It remains unclear if Libya’s Electoral Commission will accept his candidacy.

Erdogan’s support to Dbeibah is his latest attempt to turn a problematic war into his favor by supporting a potential winning candidate in the elections. The Turkish supported-militias stopped short from overtaking the oil-rich Sirte region in Libya after Egypt threatened to interfere directly in the conflict.

Libya has Africa’s largest proven oil reserves and 90% of the crude deposits are found in the “oil crescent” close to Sirte, the target of Turkish-backed militias.

Egyptian President Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi sent an ultimatum to the Turkish supported militias, and implicitly to Erdogan, to stop their advance at Al-Jafra- Sirte line in July 2020 labelling it a “red line.”

Al-Sisi vowed that Egypt will intervene militarily in case the militias cross that line in favor of the Libyan parliament leaders and tribal leaders who issued a statement denouncing the Turkish intervention “We are exposed to Turkish colonialism that seeks to control our capabilities, plunder our wealth, dismantle the social fabric, revive the Ottoman heritage, in addition to turning Libya into an incubator for terrorism, mercenaries and the Islamic State”  said the statement.

Turkey forged few economic agreements with Libya including the demarcation of naval borders in 2019, an attempt by Turkey to create a nonexistent Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for oil and gas exploration. The Turkish move was an ill-fated attempt to counter a demarcation of naval borders between Egypt- Greece and Cyprus.

Through the agreement with Libya, Erdogan believed that he could control large sections of the Mediterranean which enables Turkey to explore for oil and gas in the sea. The deal was rejected by the European Union as illegitimate since it is a transgression on Greek and Cyprian naval borders and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that drew the borders of modern Turkey and neighboring countries.

Turkey was shunned from the membership of the Cairo-Based East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EastMed) which was launched in Egypt in 2018 as a coalition of natural gas producers in the region. The forum membership includes Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, France with the USA and European Union as permeant observers. The forum aims to increase the cooperation between the natural gas member states and facilitate its liquefaction and exporting.

Turkey doesn’t own any known gas production fields and its efforts to explore new offshore oil and gas fields in the Mediterranean failed to yield any positive outcome while causing political friction. Erdogan’s political animosity extended to forum members, including Greece, France and Cyprus. On the contrary, Egypt maintains close military and economic relations with those countries.

Erdogan’s attempt to take control in Libya stemmed not only from economic reasons but for political ones in the form of supporting Islamists in Libya. It is an attempt to turn the table against Egypt which once had an Islamist government led by former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi who was ousted in June 2013 in a popular revolution. Erdogan is still adamant in succeeding in Libya despite the political Isolation of Turkey in isolation especially after Egypt and the European Union led by France condemned the Turkish intervention in Libya.

However, after all the efforts to attain a quick victory failed and suffering casualties and setbacks in the Middle East region, Erdogan changed change his tone and has undertaken a number of steps for rapprochement with a number of countries namely Egypt. Erdogan hosted Emirati Crown prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan in Turkey this week in attempt to mend ties.

Nevertheless, Egypt’s position from Libya and the Turkish intervention through its military personnel and mercenaries didn’t change as Al- Sisi reiterated Egypt’s position this month on the imperativeness of withdrawing all foreign military presence from Libya to pave the way for the reunification of the country.

International condemnations severed diplomatic ties, military casualties and economic turmoil haven’t altered Erdogan’s regional plans. He continues to act like a desperate gambler who hopes he can turn a string of losses into winnings if he just keeps on playing the same game.

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.


Please Share: