War of choice, war of necessity

Hussein Haridy
Tuesday 14 Jul 2020

Turkish military intervention in Libya has catapulted the region to its most dangerous brink in years. While Egypt didn’t choose this path, it is obliged to stand firm on it

The UN Security Council held a meeting via videoconference on the situation in Libya on Wednesday, 8 July. The meeting was chaired by the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, as Germany has assumed the chair of the Security Council for the month of July.

The meeting convened six months after the Berlin Conference on Libya that was held 19 January and raised hopes, given the strong showing at the conference, the consensus that no military solutions would end the Libyan conflict, and the call for an immediate ceasefire, for the resumption of talks among the Libyan warring parties that would ultimately restore security and stability in war-torn Libya.

Those expectations were dashed by later developments, both military and political.

The same day the Security Council met to discuss the Libyan situation Turkey announced that it would organise largescale naval exercises along Libyan coasts. In the meantime, the secretary general of the United Nations told the Security Council that time was not on its side in Libya, and that foreign intervention in Libya reached “unprecedented levels”. Moreover, he added that he is preoccupied by military mobilisation taking place near the strategic city of Sirte. He vowed that the United Nations would intensify its contacts with the African Union, the Arab League and other international organisations to support the Libyan people in their quest for a better political and economic future.

The German foreign minister was more pessimistic in his description of the present situation in Libya. He warned that reaching a political solution would not be easy; on the contrary, Libya runs the risk of disintegration and fragmentation. He also warned of a wider regional confrontation.

The French permanent representative shared the worries of Maas as to the dangers of regional escalation, while expressing concerns about the military mobilisation taking place around Sirte and the largest airbase in Libya, Al-Jafra.

The communication office of the Turkish presidency had already announced, on Sunday, 5 July, prior to the Security Council meeting, that both Sirte and Al-Jafra would be the next target for the forces of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). After the council meeting, the Turkish government left no doubt as of its future intentions in Libya when it insisted that it would help the Tripoli government in taking control of all Libyan territories; that is, to reach Egyptian-Libyan borders to the east of the existing battle lines.

Last month, while visiting a military base near the Libyan borders, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi drew a line in the sand running from Sirte to Al-Jafra that, if breached, would force Egypt to intervene militarily. In fact, the Egyptian army conducted naval and land exercises in the Western Desert near the joint borders with Libya on Wednesday, 8 July.

In light of the foregoing and in the absence of any significant economic and political pressures on Turkey, it seems that a larger regional confrontation involving Egypt and Turkey is not to be ruled out. It would be a war of necessity for Egypt, while it would be considered a war of choice for Turkey, which has been flexing its muscles on three Arab fronts: Syria and Iraq in the north and east, and Libya in the west.

If Turkish military presence in Libya would become, or seem to become permanent, that would be a casus belli for Egypt, that would be supported by other allies from the Arab world and beyond. Turkish military expansionism has raised alarm bells within the European Union and around the Mediterranean. This expansionism should be checked, and the sooner the better. In this respect, it is interesting to note that the US administration announced on Thursday, 9 July, that it would conduct military exercises with Cyprus, an announcement that is intended as an indirect message to Turkey that it has no free hand in the Eastern Mediterranean. Ironically, Turkey, in reaction to the announcement, said these exercises would be destabilising.

While military movements have been discernible on the ground from both camps in Libya, the Russian foreign minister said 8 July that Russia has been engaged in intensive diplomatic discussions with Turkey with the aim of reaching an agreement on the modalities of a Libyan ceasefire. In the meantime, he accused the Tripoli government of refusing a ceasefire, while the opposing camp of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar is willing to sign a ceasefire agreement. It remains to be seen whether the Turks are really genuine about the ceasefire. From all indications, particularly the military build-up taking place right now in the western part of Libya by Turkey, we could never know for sure the true intentions of the Turkish government, whether it seeks a truce and peace or war. However, one thing is sure. Unless defeated on the battlefield, or falling under serious American pressures, Turkey is planning for the long haul in Libya. It would be a very serious security challenge for Egypt to accept the stationing of Turkish troops, with their Syrian rag-tag mercenaries and terrorists, on its western borders.

If the vacuum of power in the Levant and northern Iraq have empowered Turkey to intervene militarily and act with impunity against Syria and Iraq, such a vacuum of power does not exist in North Africa.

If Egypt goes to war, it would be a war of necessity.


*The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly 

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