Erdogan’s Libyan gamble

Erdogan’s Libyan gamble

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Nostalgia for the era of the Sublime Porte — the government of the Ottoman empire — remains in the Turkish collective unconscious, while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken on the mission of restoring Turkey’s eminent position in the Muslim world and beyond.

International disorder, the lack of credible global or European leadership, and Westerners’ lack of foresight and short-term vision are providing the Turkish leader with daily opportunities.

The decision to transform Saint Sophia Church (Hagia Sophia) into a mosque, based on a decree issued on July 10, is the latest episode in this strategy.

The Turkish president must revel in the unanimous international condemnation, even that of the Pope, which promotes the image he seeks to give himself as the victim of his policy aimed at defending the Arab and Muslim worlds, which will subsequently aim for Al-Quds, Jerusalem. Nothing less.

Among the numerous international subjects that involve Turkey is the Libyan issue, which is undoubtedly the most worrying one. Playing to Western weaknesses, Erdogan took his revenge on history in Libya, which was lost during the Italo-Ottoman war of 1911-1912.

In doing so, Turkey halted the oil and gas ambitions of Italy and France by imposing an agreement on Tripoli, allowing it to drill off the Libyan coast, to the displeasure of the Greek and Cypriot governments.

Above all, Turkey supports at arm’s length the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli led by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, the leadership recognized by the UN.

Turkey, a member of NATO and partner of the EU, must become a priority on the international agenda.

Nathalie Goulet

By providing cadres and thousands of fighters (taken from the Syrian front), Erdogan has changed the situation. Government forces have scored a military win at the expense of their adversary, Khalifa Haftar, who leads another government in Cyrenaica. He is supported by Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Qatar, an ally of Turkey, defends Al-Sarraj’s GNA. As for France, its choices are not clear and it seems to be playing both sides.

France is taking part in the EU naval force Mediterranean operation IRINI, launched on March 31, 2020, with the objective of enforcing the UN arms embargo to Libya.

French authorities have denounced a very serious naval “incident:” On June 10, the frigate Colbert was militarily prevented from controlling a Tanzanian cargo loaded with arms. The French vessel was subjected to three radar illuminations, an act classified as “extremely aggressive.” The national navy had to give in to force and suffer humiliation.

We have to add to this already complex reality the recent draft agreement for military supplies from Turkey to Algeria, which would further promote Turkey’s influence in the region.

The situation is particularly tense. Egypt has alerted its land and air forces. In case of a direct Turkish intervention in Benghazi or Cyrenaica, Egypt announced it would intervene militarily. These comments were considered “a declaration of war” by the GNA. At the end of the day, just like in Syria, but in an inverse relationship, an agreement to put an end to the crisis will, without doubt, start with an agreement between Ankara and Moscow.

Turkey, a member of NATO and partner of the EU, must become a priority on the international agenda.

France is presiding over the Security Council, and Saudi Arabia is presiding over the G20, of which Turkey is a member. Further deterioration of the situation must be prevented at any cost. The dialogue must be revived. The security and the stability of a world already weakened by the coronavirus health crisis depend on it.

• Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of France.


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