Fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord on the frontline during a clash with Khalifa Hifter’s forces in June.Credit...Mahmud Turkia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Will Turkey and Greece fight a proxy war in Libya?

2nd January 2020 | Reading Time: 5 minutes   221 Views
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Will Turkey and Greece fight a proxy war in Libya?

Turkey is laying claim to a huge chunk of the eastern Mediterranean – an area that includes large reservoirs of natural gas that Egypt, Israel and Cyprus are racing to exploit. Last month Ankara signed a maritime delimitation agreement with Libya’s internationally recognized government in an attempt to gain control over the energy rich area. Greece said any such accord would be geographically absurd because it ignores the presence of the Greek island of Crete between the coasts of Turkey and Libya. In the near future, Turkey might send its troops to Libya to back Government of National Accord, while Greece and several other countries are expected to strongly support Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army.

Will Turkey Deploy Troops to Libya?

Following the killing of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in the NATO-backed uprising in late 2011, the country has descended into chaos. Since 2014, Libya has been mainly controlled by two rival groups – the UN-recognized, Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) in the northwest, and the Tobruk-based elected parliament in the east that has loyalty of the Libyan National Army (LNA). Turkey strongly backs Libya’s internationally recognized government and has said it could deploy troops there if it receives such request. Even though Fayez al-Serraj’s Government of National Accord has not yet asked Turkey to send its forces to Libya, President Tayyip Erdogan recently said that Turkey would increase its military support to Libya if necessary and would evaluate ground, air and marine options.

Libya’s Tripoli-based government has been fighting off a months-long offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces based mostly in the east of the country. Haftar’s Libyan National Army has received support from Russia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. According to LNA’s spokesman Ahmed al-Mesmari, Turkey has already become directly involved in the battle for Tripoli with its soldiers, planes, sea ships and all the supplies that now reach Misrata, Tripoli and Zuwara. He said Turkey had helped push the LNA out of the town of Gharyan, about 100 kilometers from Tripoli. The town was a key supply route for Hiftar’s forces pushing toward the capital.

Without vastly increased Turkish involvement, Libyan National Army might eventually defeat The Government of National Accord forces. According to Cahit Armagan Dilek, director of the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, sending some troops would not be enough to block Haftar’s forces, but such move would make Turkey actively involved in Libya’s civil war. The Turkey-backed GNA currently controls a very small portion of the Libyan territory along the Mediterranean. As a comparison: Syria’s President Bashar Assad also controlled a very small portion of the country before Russia actively got involved in the Syrian civil war. Almost five years after Russian military intervention Syria, Bashar Assad and his government control around 70 percent of the country. If it aims to gain full control over the gas reservoirs in Libya, Turkey would need to use similar tactics that Russia is using in Syria. In other words, Ankara would need to deploy its troops in order to make sure GNA prevails. Russia, on the other hand, said it was very concerned about Turkey’s potential troop deployment in Libya, adding that the military accord between the two countries raised questions. Russia and Turkey are enemies and allies at the same time. Even though they support different sides in civil wars in Libya and Syria, the two countries actively trade, negotiate, build pipelines and aim to redistribute natural resources in the Middle East.

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