Turkey seeks to soothe ties with Egypt on Libya

Turkey seeks to soothe ties with Egypt on Libya

The Libyan theater is observing a relative calmness as a result of a temporary cessation of military operations since mid-June as the two warring sides seem to be convinced in halting offensives against each other. 

The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj has paused its operation to seize the control of Sirte and Jufra while Libya National Army (LNA) Commander General Khalifa Haftar has not initiated to retake the areas he lost against Tripoli in the past few months. 

However, both sides continue military buildups around Sirte, a strategic town in central Libya for the control of the Oil Crescent, enduring the fragility of the situation. Still, many diplomats and experts believe that the stalemate has opened a window of opportunity for reviving the political process. 

Germany and the United States are leading in their efforts to find a basis for talks between Tripoli and Tobruk and hopeful that the introduction of some key confidence-building measures would help the parties to compromise on a broader settlement.

There are two key proposals to this end, the creation of a demilitarized zone around Sirte and the resumption of oil production. 

These ideas that have been floating among the diplomats of the relevant countries were discussed between the Turkish and American authorities last week during the U.S.’s Libya envoy Richard Norland’s visit to Ankara. 

In an interview with this columnist, Ambassador Norland made clear that Washington is in favor of small-scale confidence-building measures in Libya so that a healthier ground for moving forward towards a comprehensive solution can be established. 

This is a point that Turkey supports as Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın noted that “ridding Sirte and Jufra of weapons and mercenaries could be a good idea to stop clashes and this could be a window of opportunity for a political solution in the country, adding that this process has to be conducted fairly and transparently,” according to state-run Anadolu Agency. 

Besides, Turkey is not against the resumption of oil production as it has long been complaining that the cost of Haftar’s suspension of oil flow hits nearly $6 to 8 billion, an amount of money that would help to make the lives of Libyans much better. 

Furthermore, Turkey seems to be less hostile against Egypt on Libya related issues. Kalın, in an interview with Al Jazeera, described Egypt as a neighbor of Libya, which can contribute to the efforts to end the military standoff in the course of a political breakthrough. 

“What essentially worries us is the deployment of Wagner mercenaries by Russia and the United Arab Emirates’ transfer of mercenaries from Sudan, Niger and Chad,” Kalın said.

This is an attention-grabbing change in the Turkish rhetoric and policy towards Egypt after the weeks-long tension and the quarrel with Cairo. This recalibration comes after Egypt signed a maritime demarcation agreement with Greece, in which the former has shown that it pays utmost attention in not triggering a new bilateral row with Turkey.

Despite the Greek pressure, Egypt had excluded the Meis Island and parts of the coasts of Rhodes in defining the maritime boundary, standing clear that it will not sign the deal with Greece at the expense of breaching the Turkish continental shelf.

The second important development with Egypt was the resumption of talks between the two countries’ intelligence services, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has revealed. It would not be surprising to envisage that these talks did also include the Libyan conflict in a bid to avoid mutual misunderstandings vis a vis at each other’s stances.
Kalın’s words are just a reflection of the results of the recent dialogue between the two spy agencies. The presidential advisor has made it clear that Turkey is not seeking a direct military confrontation with any countries involved in Libya, apparently referring to Egypt. 

With tension rising in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey is obviously not willing to see a new escalation in Libya. That’s why Ankara is in talks with the U.S., Italy, Germany and even with Russia, although it complains about the presence of the Wagner mercenaries.

Engaging in dialogue through intelligence services with Egypt is just one of the very important components of Turkey’s new approach to Libya.

Serkan Demirtaş,