Turkey’s parliament has approved a bill to deploy troops to Libya in support of the Government of National Accord (GNA), the United Nations recognized Libyan government, consequently escalating the already chaotic proxy war for control of the state. The new legislation passed with a 325-184 vote, and while the government has not revealed any specific details about the deployment, what is certain is that President Erdogan is pushing for a more regionally active Turkey, a Turkey with growing influence on the regional stage. From the Libyan perspective, Erdogan has become an indispensable patron; according to The New York Times, in the past year alone “he has sent military advisers, arms and a fleet of 20 drones to defend Tripoli from the Libyan National Army (LNA), which control much of eastern Libya and are backed by Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.” Turkey is being sucked into a quagmire of inevitable turmoil and complexity, and military intervention will only further confuse an already murky situation.
The Libyan National Army launched a military offensive in April 2019; however, their advances were stalled by pro-government troops along the city’s southern outskirts. This delicate balance of power was toppled by the reported introduction of Russian mercenaries from the private Wagner group in September, which allowed the LNA to seize control of key towns south of Tripoli. “In recent days, things have been quite bad for the government on the front line,” said Emad Badi, a Libya scholar at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. “They might have held on for just another week. Now I don’t expect Turkey to allow that to happen,” Badi believes. Other states in the region have called for Turkey to reconsider, specifically Greece, Israel and Cyprus, as can be seen in a joint statement issued on Thursday: “This decision constitutes a gross violation of the UNSC resolution…imposing an arms embargo in Libya and seriously undermines the international community’s efforts to find a peaceful, political solution to the Libyan conflict.” This advice will more than likely be ignored. President Erdogan has made it explicitly clear that he wishes to re-establish Turkey’s position of leadership in the Muslim world.
Turkish intervention in Libya has the potential to further reinforce tensions with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, having backed opposing sides in Arab Spring uprisings and rival forces in Libya and Syria; a new conflict fault line in the Middle East may be emerging. Unfortunately, relatively little can be done to stop this downhill slide. Europe cannot pressure Turkey as it is dependent upon Erdogan to control the flow of migrants to Europe, and the United States has shown itself to be indifferent to Erdogan’s ambitions.
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