Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) greets Fayez al-Sarraj, chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya and prime minister of the Government of National Accord, in Istanbul on November 27. (Mustafa Kamaci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Turkey Could Send Troops to Assist Tripoli against Insurgency

Analysts see potential move as outgrowth of recent maritime agreement that could bolster Ankara’s efforts to find new energy sources in contested Mediterranean waters

Turkey may send a limited number of troops to Libya, analysts have told The Media Line.

This development arises in the wake of heightened tensions in the North African country between the Government of National Accord (GNA), the widely recognized, Tripoli-based national authority, and a Benghazi-based insurgency led by strongman Khalifa Haftar with support from Gulf countries.

The quid pro quo would be Libyan assistance to Turkey under an agreement signed last month with the GNA that could facilitate a joint search for oil and gas in potentially contested maritime economic zones off Greece, Egypt and Cyprus.

In an interview earlier this week with TRT Haber, Turkey’s state broadcaster, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the agreement would oblige other countries, including Egypt and Israel, to request “permission” from Ankara to search for gas and construct pipelines in the area.

Greece, for its part, argues that the agreement between Turkey and Libya violates international law and ignores Greek rights over waters near its coastline. Athens wrote this in a complaint to the United Nations and is considering a call to the European Union to apply sanctions on Ankara.

Turkey is a longtime regional rival of Greece and is already quarreling with Athens and the EU over its search for oil and gas off the coast of Cyprus.

The island of Cyprus, located in the eastern Mediterranean, has been split into two areas since 1974. The larger sector, in the South, is that of the Greek Cypriots, and the smaller, northern sector is controlled by Turkish Cypriots.

This division has political implications, with the Greek sector, officially called the Republic of Cyprus, being a member of the EU. The northern section of the island, which calls itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, is allied with – and recognized solely by – Ankara.

With regard to sending Turkish troops to Libya, Erdogan told TRT Haber that should Tripoli request such a mobilization, Ankara would answer the call.

“In the event of such a call coming, it is Turkey’s decision what kind of initiative it will take here. We will not seek the permission of anyone on this,” he stated.

Ryan Bohl, a Middle East and North Africa analyst at the global consultancy group Stratfor, told The Media Line that should Ankara send its troops to Libya, Turkish soldiers are more likely to train Libyan forces rather than engage in combat.

Bohl added that by supporting the GNA, Turkey could improve its diplomatic image at a time in which it has been harmed.

“This is where the Turks could be the regional good guys, so to speak,” he said.

He added, however, that Ankara would find little support from other countries. Even Qatar, an ally of Turkey, may be reluctant to back such a move, being preoccupied with attempts to ease a blockade against it by countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Bohl notes that Turkey desires to increase its presence in Libya for economic reasons, too, specifically by finding a role for Turkish companies to partake in the reconstruction of the war-torn country.

“That’s a lot of money that Turkey could bring home,” he said.

He also emphasized that sending troops to Libya could have a political benefit for Erdogan, who has struggled domestically since the defeat of his AK Party in the Istanbul and Ankara mayoral elections. Such a move would likely be supported by Turkish nationalists, he explained, who constitute a key voting base for the Turkish president.

Muzaffer Senel, an assistant professor of political science and international relations at Istanbul Şehir University, told The Media Line that the maritime agreement between Turkey and Libya constitutes a top priority for Ankara.

He believes that Greece and the Greek Cypriots are trying to turn the matter into an issue for the EU because they are concerned about Turkey acting unilaterally.

“This is not their business,” he said.

Senel added that Erdogan’s comments on sending troops to Libya did not contravene international law because Turkey would be acting on the invitation of a United Nations-recognized government.

“This is not a threat,” he said. “It is an invitation. Turkey is not intervening in Libya; Turkey was invited.”

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