Turkey’s role in the Libya conflict

Vying for wider regional influence, Turkey is purposely prolonging Libya’s eight-year civil war, writes senior political analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies Ziad Akl.

Turkey has been one of the foreign dimensions in the Libyan conflict since 2011. The role Turkey practises within the context of the Libyan scene is quite diverse, in the sense that it targets various gains, and is empowered by several motives.

Turkish presence in the Arab world and North Africa specifically is an aspect of current Turkish foreign policy. Two main questions appear at this conjuncture: why the ongoing presence in Libya, on one hand, and why the orientation towards a set of alliances that tend to be related to the Islamist stream — a pattern that has been practised by Turkey in more than one case in the context of changes that the Arab world witnessed in the wake of the Arab Spring.

There are two main points that explain the Turkish presence, and intervention in Libya in particular. First, there is the Turkish will to gain more influence within the south of the Mediterranean region, and this influence will be later used as a bargaining card in Turkey’s relations with the West.

The second point is Turkey’s ongoing bet on Islamist forces in the Arab world, hoping that they will materialise regimes loyal to Turkey and the Erdogan trend. The influence of those two factors makes Libya a perfect location for Turkish aspirations at the current moment.

The battle for ridding Tripoli of the influence of militias and illegitimate armed groups has escalated the Turkish-Libyan conflict. The military action taking place at the moment between warring Libyan parties is a materialisation of arguments that have existed in the Libyan conflict since 2011.

Turkey was careful to maintain its contacts with the political and military elites in the Libyan west. The tools Turkey used were quite diversified, between international political pressure, local support for the Presidential Council and frequent illegal provision of arms; the Turks were one of the main actors that empowered the Libyan west. On platforms based on ideology and regional supremacy, Turkey has established a long-term role in Libya.

Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army (LNA) are proceeding into a phase to militarily free Tripoli from the grip of non-institutional armed groups. The battle for Tripoli indicates that military forces at conflict in Libya are still far from settling a most powerful side who can finalise the conflict. This fact is a source of more domestic contention that will extend the time line of the Libyan conflict.

Egypt will be necessarily required to take a role against Turkish intervention into Libya. Libya is always a matter of Egyptian national security, and foreign intervention there is not to be accepted by any means. Moreover, Egypt’s foreign policy believes that a political solution will only come from a Libyan-Libyan solution, through a process of political settlement.

Erdogan has threatened military intervention, and the LNA has responded in turn with the same rhetoric. Prospects of an on-the-ground military intervention seem distant at the current moment, but conflicts are escalating within Libyan-Turkish relations.

Recent developments in post-Arab Spring countries illustrate changes within regional equations of power that govern the core of Arab world politics and its periphery in North Africa or the Middle East. Turkish attempts at intervention point to a process of transformation within dimensions of regional Arab politics.

The ground situation in Libya is still incapable of producing a winning party.

The LNA, on the one hand, is still the most cohesive military power within the Libyan conflict. However, the forces of Misrata do maintain military capability that cannot be underestimated. Both parties are backed by a range of regional and international alliances, making the Libyan scene one where domestic influence does not necessarily rule. The contradiction between domestic and international interests is one of the factors leading prolonging the internal Libyan conflict until now.

The recent resurrection of the conflict in Libya after the Tripoli events raises questions about the prospects of reaching a political settlement. The UN is losing credit on both warring ends, in the east and the west.

Turkey is still chasing its ideology-oriented targets within the Middle East and North Africa region. In addition, there are many construction contracts between Turkey and Libya, and Turkey will not let go of these interests. At the same time, Libya remains a potential place of influence within North Africa, which means that there will be competition over practising influence in it, which Turkey is undoubtedly part of.

The matrix of international alliances at the region is being reshaped, and Turkey is one of the actors that wishes to grab a new range of influence in this phase. It is unlikely that Turkish inference will morph into military intervention, and it is also unlikely that the international community will deem legitimate Turkish actions. Meanwhile, the LNA still follows a strategy that rejects non-institutional entities and refuses foreign intervention in Libya. Turkey’s role, in this regard, is not constructive in any manner, but is rather another tool to protract the domestic Libyan conflict.