Why Egypt is vigilant over Turkey’s role in Libya

Turkey’s continuously increasing meddling in Libya will destabilize North Africa, prolong the conflict in Libya and damage the national security of Egypt, Hassan Abdel Zacher stated in an Arabic-based newspaper quoting Egyptian officials.

On May 18, Turkey sent a large cache of military equipment to Islamist militias controlling Tripoli and fighting against Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), causing concern in Egypt. Fighters said they received weapons and armored vehicles from Turkey.

“Turkey strengthens its military support to the militias controlling Tripoli,” said Ahmet Al Kuveshni, a former assistant to the Egyptian Foreign Minister. “This will be a major problem for Egypt’s security and stability in North Africa as a whole”.

It was not the first time that Ankara offered support to Islamist militias accused by the LNA and some international forces, including Egypt, of encompassing terrorist groups.

Islamist militias in Tripoli are accused by many that they are transferring foreign jihadists from Syria and Iraq to Libya to turn the country of North Africa into a base for attacks in Africa and the southern Mediterranean.

Last December, a Turkish ship arrived in Libya with firearms and about 4.8 million rounds of ammunition manufactured by Turkish companies Zoraki and Retay, according to Libyan media.

Eleven months earlier, the Greek Coast Guard seized a Tanzania-flagged ship headed for Libya carrying chemicals that could be used to build explosives. The ship loaded the specific cargoes in the Turkish ports of Mersina and Iskenderun (Alexandretta).

In September 2015, Greek authorities had captured a cargo ship carrying an undeclared arms cargo from Turkey to Libya.

These Turkish supplies of weapons are apparent violations of the United Nations arms embargo on Libya and confirm the international concerns about Ankara’s support for the country’s Islamic forces.

The May 18th arms shipment came shortly after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to support the Tripoli government. In a telephone conversation with the Tripoli head of government, Fayez al-Sarraj, Erdogan said Turkey will do its utmost to help Al-Sarraj and his government.

Turkey’s involvement in Libya is part of a regional and international battle of influence.

Unlike other Middle Eastern countries, Turkey and Qatar have been placed as key supporters of political Islam, supporting Islamist militias for ideological and strategic reasons.

The concern in Cairo is that Turkey’s moves are designed to “besiege” Egypt and undermine its security by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Turkey’s lease of Sudanese island Suakin for a 99-year contract can be seen as a move towards this containment of Egypt.

“Turkey wants to control Egypt by putting it in a ring of conflicts,” said Rami Ashour, a lecturer at the Nasser Military Academy, an academic arm of the Egyptian army.

In addition to Libya, Turkey has tried to build closer ties with Sudan before the fall of Omar al-Bashir’s regime. Ankara tried in every way to gain control of the southern entry of the Red Sea, signing an agreement with Al-Bashir on Sudan’s Swak district. The deal was seen as a direct threat to Egypt, which hopes to secure navigation in the Red Sea towards the Suez Canal.

The turmoil in Libya was particularly detrimental to Cairo due to the long border between Egypt and Libya. Weapons found with Islamic state militants fighting the Egyptian army in Sinai came from Libya, Egyptian officials said.

Cairo has developed an impressive amount of resources to secure its borders in Libya, including the construction of military bases in the western desert. There is concern that the measures will have little effect if the situation in Libya is not improved.

Egypt did not comment directly on Turkish involvement in Libya, but Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has repeatedly denounced foreign interventions in Libyan affairs.

On March 5, he said the international community is well aware of the funding provided to militias in Libya. He added that those who offer funding were known to everyone.

“How can we genuinely fight terrorism when the international community ignores the support that some countries offer to illegal parties?” Sameh Shoukry asked at a press conference in Cairo with his counterparts from Algeria and Tunisia.

Egypt, which supports the LNA and Marshal Haftar, expresses concern at the fact that continued Turkish support for Islamist militias would harm the conflict in Libya, threatening various interests, especially those of neighboring countries, say analysts.

“Turkey wants to prolong the conflict in Libya by giving weapons to fighters,” said Salama, a professor of political science at Beni Suef University. “In addition to harm to the security of neighboring Libya, the prolonged conflict in the country will open the door for terrorists from all over the world.”

Earlier in the month, the Libyan government fighters presented the equipment they received from Turkey. Such activities on the part of Ankara raise the fear that it is repeating in Libya its actions in Syria, by supporting global terrorism.

The nefarious role of Salah Badi
The commander of the militia Salah Badi spoke of the deadly force of Turkish armored vehicles. “The beast is here. The Battle of Tripoli will be reversed in our favor in two weeks,” he said in a video.

Badi Samdi’s brigade and a militia called Brigade 33, commanded by Bashir Halfalah, were among the Islamic groups that announced the receipt of military equipment.

They said the mission from Turkey included anti-tank missiles, ground-to-air missiles, rifles, and ammunition.

Last November, the United States Treasury Department sanctioned Badi, accusing him of undermining Libyan security as he launched attacks on groups in the UN-backed country.

In a statement, the US Treasury Department said the Samud militias used Grad missiles in densely populated areas during clashes in Tripoli in September 2018.

Badi, a former Libyan Army officer, led the Islamist militia during the revolt in 2011 when Islamist rebels backed by NATO displaced Muammar Gaddafi.

The Libyan media reported that Badi returned after a long stay in Turkey to participate in the Islamic militia fight against the LNA.

Meanwhile, Fathi Ali Bashagha, the interior minister of the Trepolis-based government, visited Turkey in April to activate “security and defense agreements” between the two governments.

Source: Ahval