Chances of ‘Berlin breakthrough’ in doubt after Turkish threat

Chances of ‘Berlin breakthrough’ in doubt after Turkish threat
Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar in Greece. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 January 2020

Chances of ‘Berlin breakthrough’ in doubt after Turkish threat

Chances of ‘Berlin breakthrough’ in doubt after Turkish threat
  • Negotiations in Moscow break down amid increasing foreign involvement in conflict

LONDON: Turkish threats to “teach a lesson” to Libyan strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar following a breakdown in Tuesday’s cease-fire talks in Moscow has cast serious doubt over the chances of a breakthrough in Berlin.

Hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, this Sunday’s talks will bring together leaders of Libya’s warring parties, including Haftar and Fayez Al-Sarraj, head of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). 

Officials from international organizations and a number of countries, including Turkey and Russia, will also attend.

The current conflict in Libya erupted in April 2019 when Haftar’s forces, based in the east of the country, launched a bid to seize the capital Tripoli.

The Berlin talks come just days after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he “will not hesitate to teach a deserved lesson to the putschist Haftar” in response to his walkout of the Moscow talks. 

Turkish military advisers are already assisting GNA forces, and Erdogan has threatened a large-scale military intervention in the conflict.

The Berlin talks aim to introduce an arms embargo on the warring factions, both of which are supported by major regional and global players.

Jason Pack, nonresident fellow at the Middle East Institute and founder of Libya Analysis, said international involvement has increasingly become a major element of the conflict.

Outside powers, particularly Turkey and Russia — whose Wagner private military contractors are alleged to be supporting Haftar’s Libyan National Army on the frontlines — have now become very influential in the conflict, Pack added.

“Because drones, mercenaries and a whole range of technology are being supplied, it’s the patron who can provide those things that has all the leverage,” he told Arab News. 

This means that the involvement of international backers such as Russia and Turkey in the talks is a positive first step, he said.

But despite the importance of international assistance in the conflict, Al-Sarraj and Haftar can still act independently and in unpredictable ways, said NATO analyst Umberto Profazio. This, he added, is what went wrong in Moscow. 

And it threatens to derail the Berlin talks too. Whether they are successful is impossible to predict, but Profazio told Arab News that they represent perhaps the “last chance to avoid the escalation that risks plunging the entire region into a general confrontation.” 

The Berlin talks also present an unexpected opportunity for EU leaders to take a leading role in the negotiations, which has mainly been played by Russia and Turkey thus far.

However, France and Italy remain divided over Libya. France supports Haftar’s forces, while Italy is aligned with the GNA. 

Whether the EU players — who will both attend the Berlin talks — can act in a unified way will be worthy of attention.

But it is the Turkish stance, Profazio said, that should be watched most closely as the talks progress. 

Having already threatened Haftar, a breakdown in talks could mean direct involvement in the conflict, possibly paving the way for Turkey’s “nightmare scenario” — a general conflict pulling in regional and possibly global players.

Among all this maneuvering, the voice of the Libyan people appears to have been swept aside, said Noufal Abboud, executive director of the Nordic Center for Conflict Transformation.

“The Libyan people remain unrepresented, and continue to be either forced to leave their home country, or left to live in fear and misery,” he told Arab News.

Only by focusing on meeting the needs of the Libyan people can real peace be achieved, Abboud said, adding: “The cease-fire is just the beginning of building peace, not the end goal of it.”