Turkish-Libyan alliance built on a long-term vision
A visit by Libya’s U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) Prime Minister Fayyez al-Sarraj to Ankara on June 4 for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has importance in a lot of ways.
The first is about timing. Sarraj went to Ankara as Turkey-backed GNA forces have announced that they have fully liberated the entire Tripoli from the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of General Khalifa Haftar. The advance of the GNA troops since the beginning of 2020 has resulted in a major change of balance in the field which also yielded political repercussions to its advantage. More Western powers are now having second thoughts about their continued support to Haftar.
Another dimension concerning the timing of the visit is that it comes days after the U.N. issued a new call to the warring parties to launch talks for a ceasefire and return to the table. Sarraj has made clear that Ankara is his main political mentor and a shield against international pressure.
Secondly, both Erdoğan and Sarraj denied Haftar as a legitimate representative of the Libyans with a strong emphasis that they will not negotiate peace and a political settlement with him whatsoever. Both have accused Haftar of committing war crimes, with Sarraj stressing that their struggle will continue until “they totally eliminate the enemy.”
No doubt, his latest military gains against Haftar put him in a much more comfortable position to vow the continuation of the military campaign. At a time when the Wagner Group has withdrawn its mercenaries to west Libya and Haftar losing air superiority, the GNA would opt for enduring its advance to capture more strategically significant spots, including Libya’s Oil Crescent. Erdoğan’s emphasis on the lifting of embargos on Libya and the resumption of oil export by the internationally recognized government could be linked with the next objective of the GNA forces in the field.
Thirdly, both leaders renewed their calls on the pro-Haftar world powers to cease their backing to the LNA. “History will never forgive you,” Sarraj told these powers as Erdoğan blamed them for the continued bloodshed in the North African country. This joint position by Erdoğan and Sarraj excludes any formula to be tabled by these powers that stipulates a role for Haftar in the future of Libya.
Messages conveyed by the two leaders on the prospects of Turkish-Libyan cooperation in the coming period were equally noteworthy. “Our support for Libya’s legitimate government and institutions will increasingly continue,” Erdoğan stated, reassuring that Turkey will always stand with Libya in all the international forums, including NATO and Berlin peace process.
Given the conditions and ongoing armed conflict, it’s natural to predict that Erdoğan firstly means the continued military support in line with November 2019 security and military cooperation agreement. Turkey trains and provides military advisory service to the GNA forces while it is also pushing NATO to help the Tripoli government to transform and increase the capacity of the GNA security forces.
There are opinions on whether Turkey would like to build a permanent base around Tripoli in order to better coordinate its active support to the GNA. Many in Ankara believe that the support must continue to lock in military gains by Sarraj forces.
Erdoğan and Sarraj sounded like they had a more comprehensive plan, though. Developing new areas of cooperation on the basis of the Memorandum of Understanding on Delimitation of the Maritime Jurisdiction Areas between Turkey and Libya has been one of the top issues, the two leaders discussed in Ankara.
Turkey has already made clear that it will be much more active in exploring the hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean and the deal with Libya paves the way to expand the maritime areas. It would be no surprise if the Tripoli government would issue licenses exploration and exploitation licenses to the Turkish Petroleum both at sea and on land.
Sarraj added a new dimension to the improving Turkish-Libyan cooperation as he invited the Turkish companies for the reconstruction of Libya. The North African country is not a new venue for Turkish companies. They were quite active there mainly in the construction sector for decades until the collapse of the Muammar Ghaddafi rule in 2011.
In a de facto civil war since 2011, Libya’s biggest cities need to be reconstructed with proper infrastructure accompanied by efforts to resurrect its institutions. A stable Libya could generate billions of dollars through oil exports and spend this money to leave the bad memories of this armed conflict behind.
Of course, many regional and world powers have their own plans and policies concerning Libya. But, for the time being, it’s only Turkey that offers long-term cooperation to the Libyan government and people in order to realize these objectives.