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What does Turkish intervention in Libya mean?

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin called for a ceasefire in Libya, starting from 12 January 2020, following Turkish Parliament’s decision to deploy troops in Libya. But what has happening in Libya and why is Turkey interested? Here are answers to the main questions surrounding the Libyan Conflict and Turkey’s role.


What is going on in Libya?

Libya is in turmoil since 2011. The North African country was one of the first states which were affected by the Arab Spring, arose in Tunisia at the same year. Although Tunisia could have relatively peaceful transition of power when the country’s dictator Zainal Abidin bin Ali fled the country after the protests and Tunisia has become a democratic country, the events took a different shape in Libya. Libya’s dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi wanted to hold on power with violence and suppress the protests.

The outcome had been different and the situation quickly turned into a civil war also with the effect of the strong tribal traditions in the country. The civil war costed the life of the dictator and for a short period, the situation seemed stable in the country, with the public order restored and the democracy looking on the horizon. However, this positive environment did not last long and the civil war erupted again almost immediately.

Currently, the western half of the country is government by the country’s UN-backed legitimate government in the capital city of Tripoli, headed by Fayez al-Sarraj. The eastern part is led by the warlord “General Khalifa Haftar” once a close ally and confidant of Muammar al-Gaddafi. Haftar was captured in Chad as a prisoner of war in 1987 during the Libyan-Chad Conflict. He was freed of captivity by the US after defecting to CIA and later settled in Virginia. Haftar returned back to Libya during the fall of Gaddafi to secure his place in the post-Gaddafi era.


Why is Libya important?

Libya has Africa’s largest proven oil reserves and the 10th largest oil reserves in the world. It also has considerable natural gas. Libya’s geopolitical significance cannot be ignored either. It is the fourth largest country in Africa and it has a very large coastline in the Mediterranean Sea. Libya is also an important hub for refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe.


Why is Turkey interested?

Turkey is backing the country’s legitimate Government of National Accord (GNA) since its creation. Turkey has interests in the restoration of peace in Libya. The two countries are neighbors in the Eastern Mediterranean region and the bilateral relations and the common history date back hundreds of years ago.

Also, Turkey and Libyan government recently signed a treaty agreement, determining the demarcation line of the two countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs), or their maritime border in other words. This agreement helps Turkey to bolster its maritime claims in the Eastern Mediterranean and protect its rights in the region.

Eastern Mediterranean owns one of the largest natural gas reserves. According to data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, the natural gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean, namely Zohr, Leviathan, Aphrodite and Tamar fields, holds an estimated 3 trillion cubic meters of natural gas and 1.7 billion cubic meters of oil in total. This massive hydrocarbon resource is planned to be transported to the European markets via a pipeline from under the Mediterranean. The most feasible way to do it via Turkey in terms of financial and technical conditions. It is both expensive and technically difficult to build the projected pipeline with bypassing Turkish coasts. Many experts even call it unrealistic. However, Israel, Cyprus and Greece still want to bypass Turkey in such project, not because of financial motivations, but out of the political reasons. Yet, it is under the jurisdiction of the coastal states to allow the construction of a pipeline within their maritime areas. Therefore, with Turkey signing the maritime delimitation agreement with Libyan government, the consent of Turkey becomes mandatory for such pipeline project.

Additionally, numerous Turkish companies had business operations in Libya, as well as trade ties in the country. Only the unpaid progress payments of Turkish companies, mainly in the construction sector, amounts to $1.5 billion. Turkish companies signed contracts with Libyan government and private companies which value $18 billion in total. Therefore, Turkey has interest in the restoration of the peace, law and order also for the financial reason.


Why is Turkey’s intervention legitimate on the contrary of other foreign countries?

The Government of National Accord (GNA) is the legitimate government of the country which was recognized by the United Nations (UN) in 2016. On the other hand, Khalifa Haftar is regarded as a “warlord” wanting to usurp the power with brute force. Haftar claims to have received his legitimacy with the backing of the House of Representatives based in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk, although the assembly did not have authority to give this power to Haftar and was not even formally convened. For this reason, the international community and the UN recognize GNA government as legitimate in the country.

Under the UN Charter, the countries can send their military forces in another country only for the reasons of self-defense, complying with a UN Security Council resolution or upon the invitation of the legitimate government of the country. Turkey is the only foreign country which has military presence in the country with the consent of the country’s legitimate government. Exactly for this reason, France, UAE, Egypt and Russia do not openly accept the presence of their military forces in Libya as it is against international law. Also arguably for this reason, Russia deploys a mercenary company called “Wagner Group” instead of the regular units, in order to be able to deny that it is militarily intervening in Libya.


Why is Turkey intervening now?

Turkey stepped in with a direct interference in Libya after Haftar forces started to gain ground in their Tripoli Offensive. Haftar forces had been initially stalled in the first months of the offensive despite having greater numbers and the air-power superiority with Egypt and UAE’s backing. In the meantime, Turkey continued to support the Farraj government with weapons, artillery, armored vehicles and armed UAVs. However, Russia’s private security corporation Wagner Group joined in the offensive and has become the vanguard force in the offensive. Wagner Group is known as Russia’s mercenary power and allegedly works on the orders of the Russian government in countries where deniability is desired by Russia, such as Eastern Ukraine and Libya. After Russian forces intervened in October, Haftar forces started to gain ground in the offensive. That’s why Turkey also needed to bolster its support behind the UN-backed government and switched to a more direct intervention with its military forces. On 2 January 2020, Turkish Parliament voted to authorize the troop deployment in Libya. Not long after, Turkey’s President Erdogan announced that the troops are underway, that they would not act as combat forces, but provide assistance to Libyan army behind the frontlines.


What is now?

Turkey expects to prevent the fall of the capital city of Tripoli, and therefore the Government of National Accord with it. As of 8 January 2020, Turkey’s President Erdogan and Russia’s President Putin called for a ceasefire, starting from January 12. It seems that the two major countries backing the opposite sides reached an understanding in order to restore peace and stability of Libya. But, the mechanism and the sustainability of this effort remain to be seen.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin called for a ceasefire in Libya, starting from 12 January 2020, following Turkish Parliament’s decision to deploy troops in Libya. But what has happening in Libya and why is Turkey interested? Here are answers to the main questions surrounding the Libyan Conflict and Turkey’s role.