Experts uncertain of strength of Libyan cease-fire

Experts uncertain of strength of Libyan cease-fire
Demonstrators hold up a poster of their leader Gen. Khalifa Hifter at a rally in Benghazi against Turkish intervention in Libya. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 January 2020

Experts uncertain of strength of Libyan cease-fire

Experts uncertain of strength of Libyan cease-fire
  • Withdrawal of Turkish troops and Syrian mercenaries from the country in doubt

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have called for a cease-fire to end the civil conflict in Libya, following their talks in Istanbul on Wednesday.

The cease-fire is expected to come into effect at midnight on Sunday.

However, there is uncertainty about whether the cease-fire will lead to the withdrawal of Turkish troops and Syrian mercenaries from Libya.

After deploying its allied Syrian fighters, Turkey recently sent military advisers and special operations forces to the North African state to support the Government of National Accord (GNA) against the recent gains of military strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).

But Ankara accused Moscow of having thousands of Wagner Group mercenaries in Libya on Haftar’s behalf. Russia denies the allegation.

Ariz Kader, an independent researcher on MENA conflicts, said that “the cease-fire will allow Turkey to save face through Russian diplomacy as the GNA seems to be militarily collapsing and sending trainers wasn’t going to turn the tide.”

According to Kader, the GNA is losing regardless of the support it is given.

“The advantage Haftar has is an available air force and thus air superiority. Because of Egyptian and UAE support, Turkish drones have not been able to reverse that advantage,” he told Arab News.

“Haftar has been using his last few months to shore up alliances and use his control of oil fields as well as good relations with major tribes in Libya to win over groups from the GNA to the LNA.”

The LNA announced on Monday that its forces had captured the coastal city of Sirte.

“With taking Sirte, Haftar has the advantage of both creating two front lines as to advance on Tripoli as well as a much larger advantage: Diverting the powerful Misratan brigades to defend Misrata,” Kader said.

According to Kader, Misratan brigades are far more territorial and loyal to their city than they are to the GNA. If Misrata is seriously put under threat, then those brigades will likely disperse, leaving the GNA in a rush to protect Tripoli from Haftar’s advance.

“The logic behind any cease-fire would be an Astana-like template. It is a measure for Turkey to save face and receive some diplomatic gain, however minute. But I severely doubt the momentum built up by regional forces like Egypt is going to allow such an easy scenario for Turkey at this point unless it offers larger concessions,” he said.

Dario Cristiani, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the US, doubts that Erdogan will recall troops in Libya, adding that the cease-fire will be difficult to implement.

“What Erdogan and Putin said yesterday in Istanbul was more of a political message, especially as the EU countries were hosting Sarraj in Brussels and Haftar in Rome: ‘It’s us who matter in Libya, not others,’” Cristiani told Arab News.

According to Cristiani, Turkey realized it was becoming increasingly isolated within the emerging competition for the eastern Mediterranean. Ankara, he said, saw that Egypt was warming to Haftar because of the likelihood of him supporting Cairo’s view on maritime border delimitation.

“Erdogan is well aware that his position at home depends on his capacity of revitalizing the economy. A strong economy was the actual reason that better explains his political longevity. Turkey has significant business interests in Libya, in several sectors, and a takeover from the forces of Eastern Libya might put these interests at risk,” he added.