Turkey has clearly supported the United Nations-backed, Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) against the putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar in Libya since the civil war started in the country.
Ankara has focused its efforts on pushing Haftar into a cease-fire. To this end, the nation has intensified the military and logistical support it provides to the GNA.
This strategy saw results last week. The GNA made significant gains against Haftar’s forces and captured several strategic points. Al-Watiya air base near the Tunisian border is now in their control as well as Tripoli International Airport. With these gains, the GNA is in command in and around Tripoli.
These clear defeats have made Haftar ask for a cease-fire and go back to the negotiating table.
There is panic on Haftar's side. His deputy, Ahmed Maetig, flew to Moscow and Turkey's Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said: "By taking back the coastline from Tripoli to Tunisia, recapturing international airports and making further gains through air and land operations, the GNA essentially proved that Haftar can not win this war. The parties who have been supporting a cease-fire in Libya should now focus their efforts on securing a political solution on the conflict."
A big step has now been taken, but what will happen next? Ankara aims to consolidate support from NATO and the U.S. and to agree on a political solution that is not lost in endless negotiations. President Donald Trump’s strategy on Libya, however, seems to be vague. He has been sending support signals to both sides but seems to have chosen to be on the stronger side with the GNA.
What about Russia’s support of Haftar? Will it continue or might President Vladimir Putin change his policy in Tripoli? There are political rumors about Moscow's growing criticism of the putschist. It is said there is an idea that Haftar is becoming a second Moammar Gadhafi.
The picture became all the more clear after Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj visited Turkey last week. With Turkish support, Libya’s forces broke the siege. The balance of power has shifted to the GNA.
Now a new phase is starting, but it will not be an easy one. Negotiations will probably be interrupted by problems. Sarraj should work with Haftar, but he is not seen as a legitimate actor by the GNA or by Turkey. There are too many conflicting interests among the supporters of both sides regarding Libya and the waters around it.
Turkey’s plan is not limited to petroleum and natural gas exploration. There is an intention to seek more multidimensional cooperation. Now, with Ankara's success in changing the course of the civil war, there is much to be done in Libya under the GNA's rule including building new infrastructure and putting together a well-run health care system.
On the other hand, the developments regarding Libya's waters are vital. Turkey has seven licensed areas in the Eastern Mediterranean for oil exploration and drilling under the recent Libya pact.
Since last year, drilling vessels have been sent to the area as Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) have asserted their rights to the resources of the region. It has been challenging. Greece and Greek Cyprus threatened to arrest those crews and have started an anti-propaganda campaign. Turkey, however, has consistently reiterated that it has been conducting exploration activities since the 1990s, which were interrupted in 2011. Now with things getting organized in Libya, the process can go on as before, and new infrastructure projects can be realized.
There is still much to be done, but clearly, Turkey has diplomatically and militarily gained ground in Libya due to its decisive efforts and proper foreign policy perspective.
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