Erdogan’s Libya gamble30 December 2019
Erdogan administration advanced a bill to the Grand Assembly to ratify troop deployment to Libya, where a slow but bloody and multi-sided civil war has been simmering since the death of strongman Khaddaffi. Ankara is siding with UN-backed government, which is based in the capital, Tripoli.
The move, which comes earlier than expected, marks an acceleration of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plans.
The Libyan government has been fighting an insurgency by forces under Gen Khalifa Haftar based in eastern Libya. Mercenaries from Sudan, Russia and now Syria are alleged to have entered the war on opposing sides, making Turkey’s job of stabilizing Tripoli very difficult. To add, General Hafter’s commanders vowed to sink any Turkish naval vessels that come within range.
According to researcher Burak Bekdil of Gatestone Institute, Erdogan aims to kill many birds with one stone:
Erdoğan is apparently aiming to:
minimize Turkey’s isolation in the Mediterranean, one which has gradually worsened since 2010, following one diplomatic crisis after another with Israel;
counter strategic cooperation between Cyprus, Greece, Egypt and Israel, including joint diplomatic, energy and military initiatives;
cut into the emerging Cypriot-Greek-Egyptian-Israeli maritime bloc;
push back against Arab (Egyptian and UAE) pressure on al-Sarraj;
fill the European vacuum in Libya; and
emerge as a deal-breaker in the Mediterranean rather than a deal-maker.
Facing an alliance of UAE, Egypt, Greek Cyprus, Greece and Israel to bottle Turkey up at its coast by dividing Mediterranean up into Exclusive Economic Zones, which exclude Turkey, in some ways, the troop deployment motion is a defensive move by Erdogan to defend Turkey’s maritime interest in the Mediterranean. However it is a huge gamble with can further diminish his approval ratings in Turkey.
The chances of success in Libya are slim, as Turkey lacks the large troop and tank carrier vessels to fetch enough aid to the embattled Tripoli government. Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria are not supportive of Turkish meddling in Arab politics and if reports are true, Turkey will confront Russian interest in Libya, which casts a shadow on a budding alliance.
According to an Arti 1 poll, Erdogan’ pet project Canal Istanbul is not wanted by 71% of Istanbullers, while another pol by AREA indicates only 35% of participants intent to vote him. In all the polls published in 2019, economy followed by Syrian refugees remain the two topmost concerns of the body public, the first of which will be worsened by ever-increasing military expenditures in Syria, Iraq (against PKK) and now Libya.
Statecraft is matching resources to priorities. Erdogan sems to have forgotten this lesson