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Turkey and Libya Confrontation
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) meets with Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libyas Government of National Accord Fayez al-Sarraj (L) within the Berlin Conference on Libyan peace in Berlin, Germany on January 19, 2020. (Turkish Presidency/Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Turkey and Libya Confrontation

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, January 23

As a result of the [insurgent] Libyan National Army’s capture of Sirte and [areas of] Tripoli, and because [the Government of National Accord] thought it was about to lose the war in Libya, the Turks went to Berlin, where they hoped to save face through negotiations. There, the victors and the losers sat around the negotiating table and hoped that realism would push everyone to reach an agreement to end the years of violence in Libya. The agreement was signed by the parties around the table, with the sponsorship and backing of the United Nations, but it is more likely that these players will eventually return to fight over the last miles of territory left in Libya. The Libyan war has seen some painful stages. 2015 was the year that wiped out hopes for reconciliation, as embassies in Tripoli closed, the United Nations withdrew its forces and chaos soon ensued in the capital. Competition between regional and major powers caused a continuation of the war, with Turkey fueling even more violence. Ankara deployed several militias to Libya (consisting mostly of foreigners) and justified its involvement in the war by claiming that it had made huge loans to Libya during the end of the Qaddafi era that were not paid back. As for the motivation behind Turkey’s intervention in Libya, most commentators agree that Ankara is seeking to build an empire. This is unrealistic because it lacks the resources to do so, even with unlimited Qatari backing. The truth is that out of Turkey’s entire involvement in the Arab world, Libya remains its last standing ground. It had made a bet on the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, Egypt, Sudan and Libya, but all of these groups lost power. Even in Libya, Turkish-backed forces control only 15% of the country’s territory. In the wake of this crisis, Ankara is threatening to send more troops to defend Tripoli. In the event that the Berlin Agreement fails, Turkey will fight with the Government of National Accord, and if they lose and the [insurgents] seize Tripoli, foreign fighters in Libya will have the task of sowing chaos. Erdoğan is using this as a bargaining chip to exert pressure on southern European countries. He made this equation very clear when he threatened that Europe would not be safe if his allies in Libya fall. Thankfully, Turkey’s power is limited: It might want to rule Libya but isn’t truly capable of doing so. One can only hope that Erdoğan will understand this through diplomacy. But even if he decides to head into direct confrontation, Erdoğan will eventually learn the hard way: Libya will become a huge burden on Turkey. If Ankara persists in its war, it will fail miserably. – Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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