On June 15, 2020, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu stated there are no disagreements between Russia and Turkey on the fundamental principles of the Libyan settlement. Moscow and Ankara are continuing negotiations at the technical level to develop a mechanism for establishing a ceasefire and start the process of political settlement of the Libyan conflict.
Who is Fighting in Libya?
In Libya over the past few years, two opposing authorities have existed in parallel, one of them is the Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli and led by Faiz Saraj. In the east, in the Tobruk, there is the Libyan House of Representatives, controlled by the commander in chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar. Since April 2019, the troops of H. Haftar besieged the Libyan capital. In November 2019, the Republic of Turkey and the government of F. Saraj signed a memorandum of understanding, which included the intensification of political and military-technical cooperation.
As a result of Turkish interference, the GNA forces managed to achieve significant military successes and go on the counterattack. The army of F. Saraj was able to lift the siege of Tripoli, which lasted 14 months and push the LNA from the Libyan capital. In April, the GNA troops established control over the coast in western Libya from Misrata to the border with Tunisia. Soon, the army of H. Haftar was forced to leave the capital airport, and Tarhuna, as well as al-Watiya airbase. Against the backdrop of the success of the government of F. Saraj, some Libyan Tuareg militias in southern Libya have expressed their support for Tripoli’s actions.
As a result of the GNA troops’ counterattack, the LNA supply system was violated, several key settlements of western Libya were captured, and the morale of H. Haftar was undermined. Now the fighting between the LNA and the army of F. Saraj is taking place on the approaches to the coastal Mediterranean city of Sirte, an important strategic point that is under the control of the LNA. The city is located on the way to oil fields in the east of the country, which are held by the army of H. Haftar, and if Sirte is taken from the GNA and their Turkish allies, the road is open for them.
What Role Does Turkey Play in the Libyan Conflict?
The situation at the front was changed thanks to large-scale intervention in the conflict by Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t hide that the victories over the troops of H. Haftar have achieved thanks to the Turkish soldiers and that the Turkish troops present in Libya are going along with the GNA to achieve common goals.
Ankara and Tripoli’s political and military-technical cooperation intensified after the signing of a memorandum of understanding in November 2019. The agreement between the GNA and Turkey defined the boundaries of Turkey’s exclusive economic zone in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, where there are large deposits of natural gas. Besides, the agreement implied the intensification of military cooperation. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the agreement between Ankara and Tripoli on security cooperation is an attempt to legalize military support that violates the arms embargo. The EU, Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Cyprus condemned the signing of a memorandum that violates international law, and other countries of the Eastern Mediterranean claim gas production in this part of the sea. By contrast, Tripoli recognizes Turkey’s right to extract natural resources in the designated exclusive economic zone in exchange for support in the Libyan conflict. Indeed, Turkey has interests in Libya. Ankara declares that it intends to win contracts for the restoration of Libya, and in the future, it will participate in the production of Libyan oil.
Just a few days after the Berlin Conference on Libya in January 2020, the participants agreed to comply with the arms embargo on Libya, Turkey sent tanks, anti-aircraft guns Korkut, self-propelled howitzers T-155, cannons GDF, combat vehicles ACV-15 and jeeps with anti-tank guns to help Tripoli. The media report that the Republic of Turkey is also transporting Syrian militants to Libya, who are fighting on the side of the GNA.
It is known that Turkey plans to open two military bases in Libya. Ankara is planning to deploy air defense systems and drones at the recently captured al-Watiya airbase. Also, Turkish troops will be stationed at a military base near Misrata. Turkey has in Libya not only economic interests but also military-political ones. Firstly, the deployment of troops of the Republic of Turkey at Libyan bases will allow Ankara to make more influence on the political course of located in Tripoli government. Secondly, Turkey will create an additional factor holding back the hypothetical offensive of the army of H. Haftar. It is unlikely that the LNA leadership will be able to fight with the Republic of Turkey’s regular units. Thirdly, Turkey will deploy troops in a country neighboring Egypt, one of Ankara’s key foreign policy opponents.
How is Egypt Responding to Intensified Hostilities in Libya?
The offensive of the pro-Turkish GNA forces and Turkey excited the Egyptian military and political circles, who perceived the defeat of the LNA and the advance of the Tripoli army deep into the country as a threat to Egyptians national security. Egyptian Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal said that Egypt will not allow pro-Turkish terrorists to control Libya. Besides, he also accused Turkey of wanting to colonize parts of the Arab world.
Egypt deployed part of the troops on the Egyptian-Libyan border. The media reported that the border with Libya was crossed by Abrams tanks and Mi-24 combat helicopters. It is also worth remembering that in the province Matruh, near the border with Libya, there is a large Egyptian military base named after the first president of Egypt, Mohammed Nagib. On its territory there are more than a thousand structures, about 20 thousand soldiers, hundreds of tanks, helicopters, boats, and air defense systems can be deployed here. The base is located close to the border with Libya, which, if necessary, allows Egypt to respond quickly to threats from a neighboring country.
Why Did Turkey and the Government of the National Accord not Accept the Cairo Declaration?
June 6, 2020, a conference was held in Cairo, during which the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt (ARE) Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came up with an initiative to overcome the Libyan crisis, the Cairo Declaration. The initiative provided for a complete ceasefire in Libya from June 8, the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the territory of the country, and the dissolution of all armed groups except for the LNA, which should ensure security in Libya. The proposals included the conditions for a political settlement of the conflict, in particular, the unification of Libyan political institutions and the creation of a presidential council with representatives of all three regions. It was planned that one of the three representatives would become president, and the other two persons would become his deputies. Egypt also called for continued talks in Geneva on the Libyan joint military commission in the 5+5 format.
The conference was attended by Egyptian President A.F. al-Sisi, Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives Aquila Saleh, the meeting was also attended by representatives of the United States, Russia, France, and Italy. Russia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Cyprus, South Africa, the League of Arab States and its members (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria, Kuwait) have expressed support for the Cairo Declaration. The EU supported the initiative, drawing attention to the fact that nothing can replace the comprehensive world, an agreement on which was reached during the Berlin Conference. Cairo’s efforts have also been welcomed in the United States.
At the same time, there were no representatives of the GNA and the Turkish Republic at the Cairo conference. The terms of a political settlement proposed by the Egyptian president were not discussed with key participants in the conflict. Naturally, Ankara and Tripoli refused to accept the Cairo Declaration and hostilities continued. GNA troops continued the bombing of the city of Sirte: the last large settlement belonging to the western part of Libya and controlled by H. Haftar.
Even though Ankara and Tripoli did not participate in the discussion of the Cairo Declaration, the GNA is ready to take part in peace talks. At the same time, it is emphasized that negotiations are possible only after the troops of F. Saraj can capture Sirte and the military base Jufra. At the same time, the GNA announced that H. Haftar is a war criminal and that he cannot participate in any negotiations on the post-war structure of Libya, and the Minister of the Interior of the F. Saraj Government announced that Libya will not be able to end the war until it’s East is liberated from H. Haftar.
The GNA is ready to continue the attack on the position of the LNA. Turkish troops can play an important role in that, considering that Ankara doesn’t hide the presence of its troops in Libya. The escalation of hostilities in Libya is taking place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coronavirus didn’t become a deterrent to hostilities. On the contrary, the warring parties decided to take advantage of the involvement of the rest of the world in the fight against the epidemic. H. Haftar declared himself the sole Libyan ruler, and the GNA went on the offensive. Missile attacks on Libyan cities lead to interruptions in the supply of water and electricity, which impedes the fight against the virus. Solving the problems caused by the epidemic seems less important to the top military-political circles of the warring parties than a war with each other. All this can contribute to the spread of coronavirus infection.
Egypt and Turkey, perhaps the main players on the Libyan chessboard, are not interested in further escalating the conflict. In July 2020, Ethiopia plans to begin filling the reservoir of the Hidase hydropower plant, regardless of whether Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa manage to reach a compromise on the distribution of water resources of the Nile River. A potential blow to the irrigation system of Egypt is a threat no less significant than the civil war in Libya, so the Egyptian leadership will probably try to avoid the aggravation of the situation on several “fronts” at once. The Egyptian leadership has concerns that it is being dragged into the grueling Libyan war. Given the fact that the army of the Arab Republic has trouble in the fight against terrorists on the Sinai Peninsula, participation in a full-fledged military campaign may make Egypt boggle for a long time in Libya. Also, the Egyptian intervention would be negatively perceived by the world community, and this could lead to the introduction of economic sanctions against Egypt and hit the already fragile economy.
Turkey has announced the launch of the Claw-Eagle Operation. During it, the Turkish Air Force attacked the facilities of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which are located in northern Iraq. Another issue Turkey is forced to monitor is the actions of the Syrian Arab Republic army, which is fighting against terrorist groups in Idlib. The intensification of hostilities in Libya is also taking place against the backdrop of worsening relations between Turkey and Greece. This does not allow Ankara to be involved in the processes taking place in Libya as it would like.
H. Haftar will not give up without a fight. The LNA is going to restructure the main operational headquarters of the command for more effective interaction on the battlefield. Reinforcements are drawn to Sirt. However, in connection with the events of recent weeks, it has become more apparent that a military way to resolve the Libyan conflict is hardly possible. Egypt will not allow the complete defeat of the LNA, and Turkey will not allow the defeat of the GNA forces.
Understanding this forces the warring parties to discuss measures that can stop the bloodshed. The delegations of the GNA and LNA took part in the third round of talks on Libya in the format of a meeting of the joint military talks 5 + 5, during which the parties discussed a draft ceasefire agreement. Although the ceasefire was repeatedly broken, both H. Haftar and F. Saraj alternately refused to sign the ceasefire agreement, now there is a real possibility of a compromise. Turkey and the GNA are ready for negotiations, but they want to strengthen their position before them.
It is worth recognizing that the military solution to the Libyan issue has not justified itself. This means that if the warring parties cannot find a political solution to the conflict, Libya will remain a country divided into two parts for a very long time. Under these conditions, Russia can take the initiative. It can offer F. Saraj and H. Haftar to negotiate with the mediation of Russia and Turkey on the conditions for establishing a ceasefire. Then, when the shooting stops, initiate a discussion on the possibility of a political settlement of the Libyan conflict. Moscow and Ankara have extensive experience in finding a compromise on the most painful issues, and it is possible that the Libyan conflict is no exception.