To anyone following developments in Libya it is obvious that Turkey has gone on the rampage, unrestrained by the US, influential powers in NATO, the EU and needless to say, the UN. After acquiring a foothold in western Libya, Turkey now seeks to press eastwards to conquer the rest of the country. Although it claims to back the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), the reverse is the case. The GNA is Ankara’s puppet in its current game of playing NATO policeman against Russia in the Eastern Mediterranean. The aggressiveness with which Ankara is performing this role has jeopardised peace-making efforts in Libya and raised tensions as never before in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa.
The pro-government press in Turkey has recently revealed Ankara’s plans to establish two military bases in Libya. One is the Watiya Airbase to the southwest of Tripoli and the other is a naval base in Misrata. The facade towards this end is a military cooperation pact with the GNA which has been fighting the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Behind that facade resides Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambition to grab as large a share as possible of Libyan oil and gas and to assert Turkish military and political hegemony over Libya.
Other North African countries are acute to the dangers of the Turkish expansionist project which seeks to promote the Islamist project as its instrument and to advance the Muslim Brotherhood, the mother organisation of all extremist Islamist groups, as its partner in sowing chaos and destruction in the region. The Turkish occupation of Libya also strengthens Ankara’s hand in its various disputes with Europe. More immediately, it bolsters its position in growing tensions with Greece over oil and gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean, and over the Greek islands that Ankara has set its sights on. The spurious Turkish-GNA maritime border agreement has furnished Ankara with another facade in order to deploy warships in the area, whether to protect Turkey’s illegal drilling activities and or to advance its other acquisitive ends.
Turkish entrenchment in Libya has reached such a level that it will take concerted international efforts to halt the revival of the Turkish occupation. France has expressed its alarm at the Turkish danger on numerous occasions. Last week, a spokesperson for the French presidency harshly censured Ankara for its “even more aggressive and insistent stance... with seven Turkish ships deployed off the Libyan coast and violations of the arms embargo”. He added: “The Turks are behaving in an unacceptable manner and are exploiting NATO. France cannot just stand by.”
Unfortunately, NATO appears to prefer appeasement when it comes to dealing with Turkish belligerence. NATO’s condonation (if not behind the scenes approval) of Turkey’s Libya campaign will prove the most disastrous mistake it has committed since the NATO bombardment of Libya nine years ago, which opened the doors to the hell of civil war, the proliferation of militias and the influx of terrorists. Hopefully, influential powers can take some constructive action before it is too late. The US and Russia, above all, should agree on a formula to promote a political solution to the Libyan conflict before it spirals out of control. The international community can also take advantage of the Egyptian peace initiative that Ankara sought to undermine.
The Turkish regime will continue to obstruct attempts to promote a return to the political process, which runs counter to its current campaign of conquest. Whatever justifications the Turkish media advances for Ankara’s military intervention, they are nothing more than smokescreens for the true nature and ends of the Turkish designs. Unfortunately, Turkish propaganda finds willing buyers in some major international media outlets which claim to support the “legitimate” government in Tripoli. Curiously, these same media never mention the Libyan House of Representatives, which rests its legitimacy on the fact that it is the only popularly elected body in the country, and they conveniently ignore the fact that, under the UN-backed Libyan National Agreement, any sovereign agreements that the GNA concludes with foreign powers require the House of Representatives’ ratification.
The international community and major powers need to draw some clear and strong red lines to put a stop to Turkish aggression before it precipitates military clashes in the Eastern Mediterranean where Ankara is deliberately cultivating war.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly