The Libyan proxy war rages on as Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) prepares to capture the oil-rich city of Sirte. For the Libyan National Army (LNA), backed by several foreign actors including Russia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Joran, keeping control over the central coastal area seems to be one of the primary goals.
Turkey and Russia – allies and enemies at the same time – have apparently reached an agreement on spheres of influence in war-torn Libya. However, it is not clear if the deal includes Sirte. Capturing this city would open the gate for the GNA forces to press farther eastwards, towards vital oil installations, terminals and fields that are currently controlled by the LNA. For Turkey, whose economy has been in a free fall for the past few years, Libya represents a key opportunity for licit and illicit gains. Ankara aims to establish control over the energy-rich area of the eastern Mediterranean – an area that includes large reservoirs of natural gas that Egypt, Israel and Cyprus are racing to exploit.
Amid Proxy war in Libya, ‘Greece won’t hesitate to show its teeth’
Turkey’s archenemy Greece is also indirectly involved in this conflict. Its navy frigate recently attempted to board and inspect a Turkish-operated Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship in the Mediterranean Sea that was suspected of carrying a new shipment of Turkish weapons or other military equipment to the GNA forces. Naturally, Turkish frigates escorting the vessel rejected the request and warned off the Greek warship, which then reportedly shadowed the flotilla.
For months, UN-backed government forces have battled rebel commander Khalifa Haftar for control of Libya, with foreign powers increasingly wading into the fray. Here are the major players involved in the proxy war: https://t.co/obzFErJN2S
— Council on Foreign Relations (@CFR_org) June 19, 2020
Following the incident, Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said his country does not hesitate to “show its teeth” in the face of external threats.
“We have stated in a very clear and categorical fashion what our red lines are in the event that Turkey’s aggressive behavior escalates,” he said.
On the other hand, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said he was certain that Greeks would not want an armed conflict with Turkey over maritime dumpsites in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean.
“I want to underline in a mathematical certainty that Greeks would not want to stage a war with Turkey,” Akar told the private broadcaster A Haber in an interview on June 10.
It is worth noting that the two countries are already at odds over various decades-old issues ranging from mineral rights in the Aegean Sea to ethnically-split Cyprus. Turkey is competing with the Republic of Cyprus and Greece for sovereignty over waters in the eastern Mediterranean to secure access to, and rights over, oil and natural gas reserves.
Egypt, Russia threatened by Ankara’s presence in Libya
Apart from Turkey and Greece, Egypt and Russia also have their own interests in the region. Strengthening Turkey’s position in Libya would create serious problems for the government in Cairo. Turkey supports various Islamic organizations, including those affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned after the army overthrew the then President Mohammed Morsi. If Ankara sets up a permanent military base (and possibly a naval bone as well) in Tripolitania, that would mean a permanent Turkish military presence in the country neighbouring Egypt.
The transfer of tens of thousands of fighters from Syria to Libya will lead to another surge in the development of radical Islamist organizations in the North African country. If the LNA eventually gets defeated, those militants would be able to get directly to the western borders of Egypt. Therefore, the defeat of the LNA and its leader Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar would create a strategic threat for Egypt. It is no coincidence that Haftar recently flew to Cairo to negotiate with President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and the Egyptian military.
Besides Egypt, Russia also has strong interests in preventing Haftar’s defeat in this proxy war. Its interests in the region are mostly geoeconomic. Energy and arms trade are the main reasons for Moscow’s involvement in Libya’s conflict. The Kremlin reportedly aims to prevent Turkey from implementing the maritime border delineation deal with Libya, as that way Ankara would be able to extract natural gas directly from the Mediterranean Sea, instead of buying it from Moscow.
France joins proxy war in Libya for oil
France is another country that has its own interests in Libya. It is worth remembering that Paris concluded oil contracts with Haftar, which means that he will have to ensure the flawless oil extraction by the French Total Corporation. As France is expected to get involved in the conflict, there are reports that French fighter jets Dassault Rafale were seen above Sirte. However, those could easily be Egyptian aircrafts, as Cairo bought 21 Dassault Rafale from Paris.
NATO has so far taken a sluggish position, which is not surprising since there are members of the alliance on both sides of this war. Turkey and Italy support GNA, while France backs LNA.
UN impotent as usual
The United Nations has yet again demonstrated its weakness. In spite of the UN resolution and the recently extended embargo on arms sales to Libya, all actors in the conflict are fueling the proxy war by flawlessly supplying their proxies with arms. It is a clear illustration of the impotence of the UN as an organization. Therefore, the current phase of the Libyan civil war is expected to rage on at least until foreign powers make a deal over the control of the strategically important city of Sirte.
Nikola Mikovic is a freelance journalist from Serbia. He covers mostly the foreign policies of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and writes for multiple online publications. He is a contributor at Tsarizm, Informed Comment, Global Comment, and geopolitical analyst at KJ Reports YouTube channel. He can be reached at @nikola_mikovic on Twitter. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.