A recent deal agreed with Tripoli and a decision to deploy forces in Libya show that Ankara aims to develop an understanding between warring factions in the country, creating a deterrent against the powers of instability.
After winning parliamentary approval this week, Ankara is set to make the crucial move of deploying its military forces to Libya to support the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) against the recent assault from the militia of Khalifa Haftar, a 75-year-old warlord.
The Turkish government has made it clear to both regional powers, as well as the US, Russia and the EU, that it will not accept any unilateral decisions on Libya’s future or on the resource exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean that exclude Ankara.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, newly discovered rich gas fields have become a point of contention between Turkey and other coastal neighbours.
The country has already signed a maritime agreement with Libya, designating their respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the Eastern Mediterranean, changing the gas game in the region.
“Turkey will continue to thwart the plots in the region and protect its rights and interests. Turkey, which defends Libya’s territorial integrity, aims to support Libya’s legitimate UN-backed government’s call and serve for the regional peace,” wrote Fuat Oktay, Turkish Vice President, on Twitter.
“I hope those who maintain their aggression in Libya will get the relevant message with the ratification of the motion,” Oktay added, referring to the Turkish parliament’s approval of sending troops to Libya.
During the five-year Libyan civil war, the Tripoli-based government has held much of the country’s western territories and Haftar has claimed eastern Libya.
While Tripoli has been recognised by the UN, no other powers apart from Turkey and Qatar have given real support to the government, leaving the capital vulnerable to Haftar’s brutal attacks.
Since April, Haftar, who has been supported by Russia, France, the UAE and Egypt, has renewed his attacks against Tripoli with the help of Moscow’s mercenaries.
But Turkey’s recent deal with the Tripoli government and decision to deploy forces there have bolstered the GNA’s position against Haftar, who declared ‘zero hour’ for the capital, believing the end was near for them.
With its Libya move, Turkey has changed the balance of power in favour of Tripoli, increasing the GNA forces’ morale and fighting spirit. Tripoli-led forces have recently repelled attacks from Haftar militia, even launching a counter-offensive against them, a first in months.
“Turkey’s military presence will act as a deterrent,” said Emrullah Isler, a Turkish deputy, who is also President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Libya envoy, warning regional powers not to escalate tensions in the region.
As a result, Ankara seeks to find a peaceful resolution to the bloody conflict.
“Turkey is not interested in engaging in civil war in Libya, but it will also not allow the legitimate government of Libya in Tripoli to be overthrown by Haftar forces,” wrote Talha Kose, an academic at Ibn Haldun University and an expert on international relations.
Turkish deterrence in the Eastern Mediterranean
With the Libya move, Turkey has also shown its seriousness when it comes to defending its maritime rights in respect to other coastal states. Ankara has recently increased its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, dispatching several seismic and gas exploration ships in the region.
“Maintaining constructive relations with the Tripoli government and blocking projects that exclude Turkey from the Eastern Mediterranean region are key factors in Turkey’s long-term geopolitical goals,” Kose wrote.
On Thursday, Greece, Greek Cypriot Administration and Israel signed an agreement on the implementation of a project of nearly 2,000 km of pipeline, the EastMed, to transport gas from the Eastern Mediterranean fields to Italy and other European countries.
But the agreement appears to be doomed.
“Greece, the Greek Cypriots, Egypt and Israel are increasing cooperation and coordination among them, and they are trying to form an anti-Turkish partnership. Turkey is aware of these developments, and is carefully studying the moves that would lead to its encirclement in the Eastern Mediterranean region,” Kose viewed.
“These joint endeavours of the four powers aiming to exclude Turkey from the energy game in the region, increase Turkey’s will and ability to confront this cordon strategy. Turkey wants to block coalition efforts to contain Ankara in the region,” Kose added.
Recent moves have showed Turkey’s assertiveness across the region.
While the route of the EastMed goes through Turkey’s EEZs, Ankara was not consulted on the implementation of the project, angering the Turkish state, which eventually developed its own plan to block the EastMed project by reaching an understanding with the Tripoli government.
Without Turkish and Libyan approval, the EastMed’s implementation appears to be almost impossible.
“Turkey’s agreement with the Libyan government is the best guarantee for security and stability in the Mediterranean. We will of course protect our rights and interests in the Mediterranean. No regional powers need take offence by it but work with us!” wrote Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish presidency’s communications director, on Twitter.