With UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj gaining back control of Tripoli from the warlord General Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA). GNA’s victory is more for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to celebrate and for many reasons, let alone victory of an ally. Erdogan sees Libya as a colony rich in energy sources.
“History will judge those who cause bloodshed and tears in Libya by supporting putschist Haftar,” Erdoğan told reporters at a recent press conference. But apparently Erdogan was the one who caused bloodshed and war in Libya and sparked the conflict even when UN officials and other nations urged for ceasefire talks, especially during the ongoing global health emergency caused by the pandemic outbreak of coronavirus. While Haftar, whose forces once control more than half of Libya, was stepping towards reaching a truce, its rival Sarraj launched offensives with the help of Syrian militias and militants of Muslim Brotherhood, supported and financed by Turkey.
GNA, supported by Muslim Brotherhood, was founded in 2015 under a UN-led political deal with a two year mandate, which expired in 2017. Even since the nation is witnessing civil war between Serra’s forces, backed by radical Islamist and Haftar’s forces, who have been fighting to liberate the land from the rule of ISIS and Muslim Brotherhood.
Haftar forces have been backed by Egypt, UAE, France, Russia, Greece and many other European nations. Libya is probably the only warring nation which placed Turkey and Russia on opposing ends. In November 2019, Erdogan entered an agreement with GNA, wherein he agreed to provide weapons and military assistance to Sarraj’s forces in exchange of allowing Turkey to explore the natural gas shores of the African nations.
“Turkey’s main motivation has been to prevent Libya from falling under the sway of Egypt and (the) UAE, which would have been a blow to Ankara’s geostrategic and economic interests not only in Libya itself but also in the East Mediterranean,” Nigar Goksel, Turkey director at the International Crisis Group, told VOA.
It’s not the first time Erdogan tried to barter his military assistance for business interests in Libya. Even during the time of late dictator, Muhammed Ghadafi, Turkey tried to offer a solution in the wake of the Arab Spring to provide security to thousands of Libyans in exchange for commercial interests. Before Ghadafi’s rule collapsed, about a hundred Turkish construction companies reportedly signed contracts in Libya. However, due to the 2011 Arab Spring conflict, they had to leave bearing a loss of $19 billion.
Erdogan is back in the field to strengthen Ankara’s financial standing in the region, after its economy has been nearing collapse. In January 2019, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority created the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum in Cairo. The National Interest said,” Erdoğan has come to see the GNA as a key ally in thwarting this growing partnership that aims to contain his maximalist maritime ambitions.”
Besides energy exploration, Erdogan aims to gain control over Libya to set ideological expansion. Turkey supports Islamic extremist ideology and has left the work of its expansion to Muslim Brotherhood and other radical groups which are deemed as terrorist organisations.
Karim Mezran, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, highlighted the ideological differences between Turkey and several Arab countries, supporting Haftar. Mezran said that by curbing Turkey’s ideological expansion, the Arab countries hope to prevent the dominance of Islamist regimes friendly with Ankara. She added, “It has been going on since 2011 when they understood that the Arab Spring may alter the political equilibrium in the region, and they decided to intervene first-hand to prevent Islamist regimes in these countries.”
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