With the Turkish parliament approving the dispatch of troops to Libya, the race of a power struggle began by using military force and the outbreak of scattered wars sparked growing tension between multiple powers to control the oil-rich Libya. Although Turkey in this military intervention intends to support the fragile government led by Faiz al-Seraj that has also the backing of the United Nations, the nature and extent of the Turkish troop deployment in Libya remain unclear. Training of Turkish-backed proxy forces in northern Syria and deploying a group of them alongside military advisers, advanced weapons and 20 drones suggests the Turkish government’s defence of Tripoli.
Meanwhile, following the arrival of Turkish warships and Syrian militias in Libya, the French president accused Recep Tayyip Erdogan of violating the commitments of the Berlin Conference about the North African state. Macron’s remarks came a week after the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, all backing Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan Eastern Army and Turkey that supports the Tripoli government, agreed with Western powers at the Berlin Conference to seek a lasting ceasefire and maintain an arms embargo.
What most analysts point out is that Turkey over the past few months that has experienced its third overseas military offensive in Syria has been stepping up its military footprint beyond Syria and wants to portray itself as a decisive force in the East Mediterranean and North Africa military strategy, and this is enough to boost Ankara’s confidence in its experiences in Syria, as well as the feeling that it is a regional power that can affect the equations.
Turkey’s presence in northern Syria, for some reasons, is the key to declaring its presence in support of the legal government in Libya and the dispatch of troops to the North African state.
As is clear from the news about Libya, General Khalifa Hafar’s forces have held the upper hand over the government forces in their recent battles. The arrival of Russian military advisors who support General Haftar has also increased the pressure on the al-Seraj government, along with equipping them with sophisticated technology.
Turkey has developed differences with Russia over this issue, but Moscow has played the necessary game to silence Turkey in Idlib. The outbreak of direct war between Turkish forces and Bashar Assad government in Idlib and the flying of Syrian jet fighters over a Russian-controlled space indicates that the Kremlin has given Ankara a warning about taking prudent steps in Libya. Turkey was planning to deploy its warship on the coast of the city of Misrata, which is under the control of the Tripoli government.
Although relations between Russia and Turkey are deep, the Kremlin cannot ignore this move by Ankara. It seems Ankara is indifferent to any third-country stance but will act cautiously against Russia, which has just supplied a missile system to Turkey. So it seems that sending troops to Libya through a process that has taken place over the past few days could force the Turkish government to use the minimum resources in repelling General Hafar’s attack on Tripoli.
What is evident in the Turkish government’s intentions to deploy troops, or in other words declare its presence in Libya, is that the Erdogan government wants – not only in words but in practice – to somehow revive the Ottoman Empire by restoring Turkey’s leadership position in the Islamic World with a kind of deft play in wide-scale foreign policy. Turkey’s current stance with the Qatari government against Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and Ankara’s support for the groups opposed to them indicates that Turkey seeks to create a new and necessary fault in the structure of competitive power in the Middle East. By supporting countries opposed to Arab hegemony that cooperate with Israel, Ankara somehow wants to play a role model alongside supporting the opposition front coming out of the Arab Spring.
Another reason for the Erdogan government to focus on foreign policy, especially in Libya, was the defeat of his party in the municipal elections, especially in Istanbul. Although Erdogan’s presidency continues until 2023, the general trend in polls and the launch of some parties have led to Erdogan’s concern about split votes and a decision to hold early elections this fall. The not-so-favorable state of the economy in the current situation is also one of the factors for creating psycho-political conditions in the country. It is because the beginning of military movements abroad, relying on the spirit of Turkish-Islamic nationalism in the present situation, is one of the key drivers in attracting public vote.
On the other hand, Turkey’s trade interests are endangered by the convergence of the governments of Cyprus, Israel, Egypt and Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean. For this reason, the formation of a bilateral agreement between Turkey and the Libyan government on the establishment of maritime geographic boundaries to divide the oil and gas connecting line and even on the future of electricity between these countries are other requirements for Turkey’s presence in Libya. At the same time, Turkey’s lack of physical and practical presence in the eastern Mediterranean will result in Ankara’s inactivity in the Mediterranean decision-making process and over time undermining Turkey’s strategic goal in Cyprus.
The result is that Turkey wants to have players in the playground in Libya as it has in northern Syria to further its position in the political ranking table. Of course, one should not forget the ethnic connection of the cities of Tripoli and Misrata, which are of Turkish origin and still favour Ottoman culture.
Although there have been backlashes against Turkey in sending troops to Libya, European countries are not showing strong reactions to Ankara fearing floods of migrants. Angela Merkel’s silence as she travelled to Turkey over Ankara’s stance, as well as Donald Trump’s lack of serious response in his telephone conversation with Erdogan signifies their inactivity. It is only Russia that will be able to change the status quo.
Trump is looking for an opportunity so that the gap between Moscow and Ankara would help solve the problem of installing SS 400 missiles.
Now the question is whether Turkey will pursue an independent foreign policy and take the necessary risks for its national security even against Russia or not? Libya is the field for Turkey’s real showoff that will also clarify the future of its foreign policy in the region.