Turkey will suffer another failure if it expands Libya conflict
Two weeks ago, the Libyan National Army (LNA) launched its most assertive battle yet, resulting in the taking of Sirte and the siege of Tripoli. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan thus found himself on the verge of losing the war, so he decided to go to Berlin, where the final battle was to be fought. There, the victors and losers negotiated, hoping that realism would push everyone to an agreement that would end the years of violence. A UN-sponsored agreement was signed by the parties concerned, but it is more than likely that they will return to fight for the last few miles.
The war in Libya has passed through some painful stages. In 2015, hopes of reconciliation were wiped out, with embassies closing their doors in Tripoli, the UN withdrawing its forces, and chaos taking over the capital. Rivalries of regional and major powers have caused the war to continue, with Turkey among them, fighting on Libyan territory through militias whose members are mostly foreigners. The Turks justify their involvement in the war by claiming that Libya owes them huge amounts of money after they financed projects during the late Qaddafi era. Turkey is also claiming that millions of citizens of Turkish origin are living in Libya, which of course is not true.
Why is Turkey insisting on fighting in Libya? If it is out of a desire to build an empire, this is not possible because it does not have the resources, even with Qatar’s unlimited support. The truth is that Turkey has been left with just Libya when talking about the gains of the so-called “Arab Spring.” Libya is a dangerous corridor with the potential to destabilize Egypt’s security, and it could even be used to threaten Europe.
Turkey has bet on the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, Egypt, Sudan and Libya, but these groups lost power, and with them Turkey lost all of these countries, except for Libya. Even in Libya, the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) controls only 15 percent of Libyan territory, mainly in Tripoli and Misrata. It had previously lost the oil-producing areas to the LNA.
Amid this bad situation, Ankara is threatening to send more troops to defend Tripoli. It must be noted that the Turkish experts and forces are foreign fighters who were involved in the war in Syria. After coming to an agreement with the Russians in Idlib, Turkey wants to get rid of one legacy of the Syrian war, which includes having to deal with thousands of foreign fighters on its territory.
In case the Berlin deal fails, these fighters will fight alongside the GNA’s forces; and if they lose and the LNA takes Tripoli, they will sow chaos. Thus, they will be Erdogan’s bargaining tool to put pressure on European countries. This perception has been created by the threats of the Turkish president himself, who clearly said that Europe will not be safe if his allies in Libya fall.
Egypt is the other target for the Turks in Libya. President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi recently said Egypt is concerned about Libya’s stability, and regards Turkey’s intervention as a major threat to it. He added that Egypt may be the next target, which is why we see Cairo raising the tone of its speeches, declaring that it will not remain a spectator if the Turks go to war.
Everyone is trying to push Ankara to be realistic and cooperate with any joint government that is formed in accordance with the Berlin agreement.
Erdogan can prolong and widen the chaos in Libya, but he will not be able to rule the country. Thus, everyone is now trying to push Ankara to be realistic and cooperate with any joint government that is formed in accordance with the Berlin agreement, until this absurd tragedy is over. Let us not forget that the current war is the result of the failure of an earlier opportunity to share power, when the extremists backed by Turkey coveted sole rule.
The Turks, who want to use Libya to strengthen their status and make up for their failure in Syria, must know that Libya will become, for them, an additional burden, as well as a failure if they insist on supporting the war.
- Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed