First, the initial data that identify the main problems of the Libyan crisis: First, it is a relentless power struggle in Libya between the Prime Minister of the Government of the National accord (PNS) in Tripoli Fayez al-Sarraj and the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) in Benghazi, Khalifa Haftar. The former is supported by Turkey, Qatar, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy. Khavtar relies on the support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Jordan, Russia, France, Israel and the United States. H. Haftar insists on the admission of the LNA in Tripoli, and F.as-Sarraj requires the removal of the LNA in the positions they held until April 4, 2019 (then H. Haftar gave the order to advance to the Libyan capital).
Second, it is a question of the future influence of global and regional players on Tripoli. It should be borne in mind that after the closure of the Balkan-Turkish route, Libya is the main migration center. Migrant flows are amplifying the right-wing and bringing discord to the EU, which has a negative effect on the pan-European German-French tandem. In addition, if Russia and Turkey are able to reach a consensus on forcing H. Haftar and al-Sarraj to peace and creating a three-way (Russia, Turkey and Libya) oil and natural gas management mechanism, then the Kremlin and official Ankara will gain access to the pipeline exporting natural gas to Europe with all its consequences.
Arab-Turkish confrontation and natural gas
At present, the solution of the Libyan crisis does not seem possible consensus between regional countries (Egypt, KSA, UAE, Algeria, Tunisia, Qatar) and global players (France, Italy, USA, Russia, Turkey, Israel). Therefore, the implementation of the decisions of the Berlin Conference is unlikely. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on December 13, 2019 in Brussels, the conflict in Libya is a «war through intermediaries», a war by someone else’s hands.
The Libyan crisis has exacerbated the Arab-Turkish geopolitical and civilizational confrontation. This is evidenced by the address of the Parliament of the Arab countries. The Arab Parliament called on the UN Security Council, PACE, NATO and other influential international organizations to end Turkey’s military intervention in Libya. The Arab Parliament stressed that Turkey’s military intervention further complicates the situation in Libya, exacerbates divisions and differences between the Libyan parties, promotes conflict, undermines peace, impedes political settlement, destabilizes the region, and threatens the security of neighboring states and the security of neighboring countries.
The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on the demarcation of maritime zones in the Eastern Mediterranean between the PNS led by F. as-Sarraj and Turkey facilitated the emergence and intensification of an anti-Turkish coalition in the region of the Eastern Mediterranean, which includes Egypt, Greece, the Republic of Cyprus and Israel. The coalition was created at the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, to which Turkey was not invited.
Earlier, Israel, Greece and the Republic of Cyprus signed an agreement in Athens to create a $ 6 billion gas pipeline to export natural gas from Israel and the Republic of Cyprus to Greece and Italy, as well as to other European countries. This deal is not in Turkey’s interest as official Ankara seeks to maintain Europe’s energy hub status.
The Turkey-PNS maritime border agreement neutralizes the energy and gas projects of Israel, the Republic of Cyprus, Greece and Egypt in the Eastern Mediterranean. Libya has oil and natural gas reserves, accounting for 48 billion barrels of oil (daily production of 1 million barrels) and 1,5 trillion. cube. meters of gas.
According to Turkish officials, the agreement seeks to unite the common Turkish and Libyan maritime zones, which, on the one hand, will isolate Israel and Egypt, and on the other, Syria, Cyprus, Greece and Europe.
Regional countries and the EU are unlikely to allow official Ankara to implement a Turkish strategy leading to a radical change in the current energy balance in the region. The EU strongly condemned Turkey’s move, promising to punish official Ankara. Most likely, official Brussels will take tough economic steps towards Turkey.
Cannot be stopped, continue …
The participants of the Berlin International Conference on Libya have agreed on a comprehensive plan for the settlement of the conflict. According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the embargo on arms deliveries to the parties to the conflict has been managed, monitoring of the implementation of such a decision will also be strengthened.
The complete ceasefire goes against the interests of the LNA, which has the advantage of a military confrontation with the PNS. Haftar controls 90% of Libyan territory, so the LNA commander refused to sign the final document of the Berlin Conference. H. Haftar will resume and continue the assault on Tripoli, waiting for the right moment.
Opposing countries will increase their military presence in Libya. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said official Ankara had sent military advisers and instructors to Libya but did not send troops there. Recall that on November 28, 2019 in Istanbul, an agreement on military cooperation between Turkey and the Libyan Liberation War was signed, which provides for training, preparation, structuring of the legal base, as well as strengthening relations between the two countries’ military. Following this, official Ankara sent to Libya to strengthen the Islamist paramilitary group of the PNS about 3 fighters supported by Turkey’s Syrian armed opposition.
Turkey has deployed the MIM-23 Hawk SAM and the AN / MPQ-64 Sentinel 3D radar to the Maitiga Airport area of Tripoli. Probably, they are served by Turkish servicemen. Official Ankara has strengthened the air defense of PNS formations. Strengthening the air defense of the PNS can complicate the situation of the LNA, whose main advantage is the superiority in the air over the enemy.
RT Erdogan noted that he did not intend to sit at a common negotiating table with the LNA Commander-in-Chief H. Haftar, considers him a «terrorist». Such an irreconcilable stance by the Turkish president undermines the possibilities for a real peaceful settlement in Libya.
Such a move by Turkey has sparked open resentment on the part of the supporters of H. Haftar and the LNS, including Egypt, the UAE, the CSA and France. Against this background, Egypt and the KSA as a retaliatory measure can deploy to Libya for the assistance of the LNA, H. Haftar, armored vehicles, combat aircraft, as well as deploy off the Libyan coast of the Egyptian Navy. H. Haftar has already declared a «holy war» with Turkish troops arriving in Libya during a speech in Benghazi. H. Haftar also ordered a general mobilization to counter the «Ottoman colonization.»
The LNA reported that it had shot down a Turkish drone that had taken off from the Maitika air base and was attempting to strike at one of the army units stationed in Tarablus. The UAV was shot down with air defense. As a result of the air strikes of the LNA Air Force in Abu-Kuryan area, southeast of Misurata, several locations of PNS forces were struck. Turkish military equipment is being supplied through the Libyan port of Misurata to Islamist groups that form the basis of loyal PNS formations. Particularly important for the PNS of the port of Misurata is the fact that the PNS does not have its own armed forces, so it is forced to rely on Islamist paramilitary groups in Tripoli and Misurat, as well as to receive the assistance of Turkey and Qatar.
The task of H. Haftar’s allies is to promote the emergence of a legitimate government in Libya, where the interests of Egypt, the KSA, the UAE, Greece, the Republic of Cyprus, Israel, France and Russia will be taken into account. H.Haftar should (by his logic) take Tripoli and expel Muslim Brotherhood, followed by Turkey, Qatar, Algeria and Tunisia.
The LNA is not yet able to master Tripoli, but in early January this year. it captured the third largest city and the most important port of Sirte, which serves as an important base for the offensive in Tripoli. Not far from the city is the Kardabia Air Base, also captured by H. Haftar’s forces. The seizure of the Sirta Port’s LNA made it difficult for official Ankara to transfer its manpower and combat equipment. Moreover, the transition of the Sirt port under the control of the LNA created a threat to Misurata, before which H. Haftar at the end of December 2019 set an ultimatum on the withdrawal of urban formations from Tripoli. The LNA is preparing to advance to Misurata. The LNA has already reached 120 km from Misurata.
The Misurata Brigades are considered to be the most capable part of the PNS units leading the Tripoli defense. Therefore, H. Haftar seeks to approach Mysurata closely, forcing the Islamists to leave Tripoli and defend the city. In this case, H. Haftar will solve the main task — Tripoli will come under the control of the LNA.
Unlike PNS leader F.as-Sarraj, LNA leader H. Haftar enjoys the support of a number of countries, which allows him to maneuver. Moreover, Egypt, the KSA and the UAE believe that H. Haftar may still win the Libyan civil war. All the more so as the concessions of al-Sarraj are not enough.
Egypt, KSA, UAE, France, Russia believe that Haftar will be able to curb Islamists who have established themselves in Libya under a weak government in Tripoli and will become a secular military ruler ready to develop with the allies the Libyan oil and gas sector.
Russia’s growing role in Libya threatens the geopolitical influence of the EU in the southern Mediterranean. For example, laying a gas pipeline to Europe without consulting Turkey will be much more difficult.
RT Erdogan’s activity in the Libyan direction pursues Turkey’s strategic goals, as official Ankara considers Libya part of the Turkish sphere of geopolitical influence in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as an important economic partner in North Africa.
However, the Berlin Memorandum prevented the deployment of regular army units to Libya, which made the situation easier for Moscow. Otherwise, a military-political clash between Russia and Turkey over Libya cannot be avoided.
Russia’s activity in North Africa involves pressure from official Moscow to the West. The official Moscow hopes to establish on the Libyan coast a Russian Air Force and Navy base, as well as to return Russian oil and gas companies operating in Libya under Gaddafi. Russia’s possible military base in Libya is to create a threat to NATO’s southern flank and to track US 6th Navy ships in the Mediterranean.
However, Russia and Turkey cannot become major players in the Middle East and North Africa and are unable to resolve the Libyan crisis on their own, as global and regional players with diverse interests are involved in the conflict. Russia and Turkey cannot agree on Libya’s future by using the US-Iranian tensions and the Syrian crisis, which distracts most other countries from the Libyan crisis.
In particular, H. Haftar, with the help of most Arab countries, intends to expel Turkey from Tripoli. It seeks to establish sole authority in Libya. In addition, Egypt, the KSA, the UAE, Israel are hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood in Tripoli, linked to the ruling regimes in Qatar and Turkey.
Russia, in addition to the private military company (PMC) «Wagner», with the aim of influencing the outcome of the Libyan civil war, supplies through Egypt LNA combat aircraft, air defense and artillery. However, official Moscow cannot openly state that Russia supports the legitimate government of Libya, as in Syria.
Considering Russia’s unstable position in Libya, official Moscow does not explicitly place an emphasis on H. Haftar. The Kremlin formally recognizes the government in Tripoli. The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, met officially with Sar-Sarzh in October 2019, when the PM of the PNS came to the Russia-Africa summit in Sochi. By the way, V.Putin, by the way, did not officially meet with H.Haftar.
However, official Moscow is betting on H.Haftar’s victory in the struggle for power in Libya. H. Haftar controls all major oil fields in Libya. For example, the Gadamesz field in northern Libya is being developed by Tatneft, a Russian company. Official Moscow is seeking to consolidate itself in Libya’s oil sector, which will allow Russia to strengthen its influence in Europe’s energy market. In addition, this resource can be used by Russia to address geopolitical issues.
1.Peace in Libya is possible only under two conditions: either global and regional players reach full consensus on the future of the country, or H. Haftar, under pressure from the Allies, will refuse to continue fighting for Tripoli and will sign an agreement with the PNC on a ceasefire without preconditions.
2.If the PNP government in Tripoli finds itself in a situation of hopelessness, Turkey may go directly to military action. In such a case, the Cypriot scenario is highly likely to result in Libya’s split. However, against the backdrop of tougher political and economic sanctions on Turkey, official Ankara may exchange its support for the losing party, represented by F. as Saraj, for recognition of Turkish claims in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey is interested in oil and natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean.
Rauf Rajabov, Orientalist, Head of Analytical Center 3RD VIEW, Baku, Azerbaijan