Turkish lawmakers are shown in January at the country’s parliament in Ankara. (Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua/zhengsiyuan via Getty Images)

Turkey’s Increased Military Cooperation with Libya May Further Destabilize Region

The Turkish parliament voted in favor of sending troops to support Libya’s internationally recognized government, although military advisers and trainers are most likely to be sent

Ankara’s increased military cooperation with Libya may increase further instability in the region, analysts told The Media Line, after the Turkish parliament passed a vote to send troops to Libya to back its internationally recognized government against an insurgency.

The Turkish government argues supporting the internationally recognized government in Libya, which is fighting an insurgency led by General Khalifa Haftar to take over Tripoli, will help Ankara protect its own interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Haftar is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

Turkey and Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) made a maritime agreement that would allow Turkey to drill for gas in an area that Greece says violates its own rights to its coastline.

US President Donald Trump told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a phone call on Thursday that foreign interference was complicating the situation in Libya.

While Turkey’s intervention in Syria to fight Kurdish forces was supported by most opposition parties, Ankara’s more limited move into Libya has garnered less approval.

The vote on Thursday in parliament was passed 315-184, with the main opposition parties voting against it. The vote was expected to easily pass as Erdoğan holds a parliamentary majority with his coalition partner, the ultranationalist MHP.

Muzaffer Senel, an assistant professor of political science and international relations at Istanbul Şehir University, said that while some in Turkey support Erdoğan, others are concerned it will create more problems and lead the country into another unstable part of the region.

“Public opinion is divided,” Senel told The Media Line.

However, he added that Erdoğan’s ability to govern under the new presidential system, which has given him vast new powers, means he will likely stay the course regardless.

“Nothing will stop Erdoğan,” Senel said. “This is the deficiency of the presidential system.”

Egypt strongly condemned the Turkish parliament’s vote, stating that Turkey sending troops to Libya could “negatively affect the stability of the Mediterranean region,” the Reuters news agency reported.

H.A. Hellyer, senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace focused on politics in the Arab world, believed Cairo was not planning to increase its military presence in Libya in response to Turkey.

“Egypt has been assisting and aiding Cairo’s allies in eastern Libya for some time, without committing significant and substantial ground forces beyond Egyptian territory. Despite Turkey’s recent moves to deepen military cooperation with its Libyan allies in the west of the country, that isn’t likely to change in the immediate future,” he wrote to The Media Line.

“What Turkey’s moves do, however, is to make more explicit and blatant the proxy war that is currently underway in Libya – which includes not only Turkey but also different Arab countries. With the exception of Qatar, no Arab state is keen to see a stronger Turkish presence in Libya, even if they are unsympathetic to Haftar’s forces in the east.”

Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean have intensified with many in the region wanting to drill for oil and gas, which could lead to billions in profits.

Greece, Cyprus and Israel made an agreement on Thursday on a pipeline to export gas to Europe. The three countries also strongly condemned the Turkish parliament’s vote to send military support to Libya.

Nicholas Danforth, a visiting fellow focused on Turkey and the Middle East at the German Marshall Fund stated that cooperating with Libya’s internationally recognized government was a way for Turkey to confront competing regional actors in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Israel, Greece, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“Erdoğan sees military support for the GNA as a way to push back against a hostile axis of regional powers,” he wrote in an email to The Media Line.

“He may also see it as a way to gain leverage with Moscow in slowing a Russian-backed attack on Syria’s Idlib province and consolidate nationalist support domestically. The risk is that Ankara will be doubling down on a losing hand, giving opponents new reasons and new opportunities to work against Turkish interests.”

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