Egypt flexes military muscle against Turkey in Libya

Ankara rejects Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire in the country and prepares for further battles against LNA
Egyptian Army trucks carry tanks in a military convoy

PHOTO/AP  -   Egyptian Army trucks carry tanks in a military convoy

"A [military] intervention by Egypt would thwart Turkey's plans and force the Government of National Accord (GNA) to return to the diplomatic path," they say from the South Front. For many analysts, in fact, this would be the only way for Ankara to return to the path of dialogue on a peace plan for Libya. Right now, after the victory over the capital Tripoli - a battleground for 14 months, when the Libyan National Liberation Army (LNA) launched an offensive to try to regain it from the hands of its rival faction - the president of the Eurasian nation, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is more convinced than ever that he can win the war throughout the country, thanks to the use of drones and the profits made in Libyan skies.  

Thus, according to local media reports, the following Turkish movements in the North African country are contemplating the "liberation" of all major cities currently under LNA rule. Among them, the oil town of Sirte stands out, about which Erdogan himself has recognized his interest in energy resources. “There are elements inside the GNA camp who want to capitalize on recent successes and push as far east as they can go,” Alison Pargeter, a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s School of Security Studies, told Al Monitor. “So far, however, they have met with resistance in Sirte, which is likely to fight hard against the GNA for a host of reasons, including old animosities between Sirte and Misrata.”

For all these reasons, the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu, has rejected the Egyptian initiative to implement a cessation of hostilities in Libya, a country that has been in civil war since 2011 and whose situation has worsened dramatically with the intensification of conflicts between the two warring factions and the spread of the coronavirus. 

El ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Turquía, Mevlut Cavusoglu
REUTERS/PAVEL GOLOVKIN - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu

The President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, after holding a meeting last week with the commander of the LNA, Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and the President of the Libyan Parliament -under the control of the GNA-, Aguila Saleh, presented a roadmap for the North African nation which included the entry into force of a ceasefire from Monday 8th and the departure of all mercenaries and foreign powers currently involved in the conflict. The plan was immediately supported by the United States, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries.  

“The cease-fire effort in Cairo was stillborn. If a cease-fire is to be signed, it should be done at a platform that brings everyone together,” Cavusoglu told Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper. “The cease-fire call to save Hifter does not seem sincere or believable to us.” Ankara thus shows its intention to be at the negotiating table on the future of Libya, at the same level as Cairo, although it wants the LNA, which it accuses of being "the main obstacle to peace" in the North African nation, not to take part. 

A week ago, when the GNA was achieving important territorial victories in the country, Haftar asked Al-Sisi explicitly for support to end the Turkish intervention in the North African nation, which has been the main responsible for the fact that the LNA could not take control of Tripoli during the 14 months lasting siege. Then, and as revealed by the Egypt Independent, the Egyptian president told the marshal that "he would not allow any threat to his western borders". And so it was said and done. The Egyptian Army Chief of Staff, General Mohammed Farid Hegazy, said Wednesday that the Armed Forces "are in the highest degree of combat readiness to face all challenges and dangers. The statements were made during a meeting with commanders, officers and soldiers in the western military region on the border with Libya.

Mohamed Farid Hegazy, jefe del Estado Mayor de las Fuerzas Armadas egipcias
PHOTO/AFP - Mohammed Farid Hegazy, Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces

"The strict Turkish stand is apparently forcing Egypt to consider a military action in Libya in order to prevent the GNA from securing a military victory" they explain from South Front. On June 7, the same media revealed that Cairo had sent massive convoys of battle tanks to the border region in the day before the ceasefire came into effect, which has not been respected for the moment with the latest clashes. 

This Egyptian move was allegedly made with the aim of dissuading Turkey's aspirations to control the geostrategic enclave of Sirte, although it has not been successful so far, because the fighting continues to intensify, causing the death of at least 19 civilians, according to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). 

El presidente egipcio, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, reuniéndose con el comandante libio Jalifa Haftar y el presidente del Parlamento libio Aguila Saleh en la capital, El Cairo
AFP / HO / PRESIDENCIA EGIPCIA - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meeting with Libyan Commander Khalifa Haftar and Speaker of the Libyan Parliament Aguila Saleh in Cairo

With this scenario, and as analyst Diego Cupolo explains in Al-Monitor, "the developments raise the prospects for further conflicts between Libya’s warring sides and cast doubts on Hifter’s political future, yet observers say many uncertainties remain as the outcome of battles in Sirte and Jufra will be largely dependent on military support from the LNA’s foreign backers." Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya-focused research fellow at the Clingendael Institute adds that Turkey could lose its legitimacy among some sections of the Libyan people if it continues its attacks, especially in Sirte. "Turkish intervention in Tripoli was defensive in nature, which could be accepted by Libyan residents, but supporting an offensive on Sirte could be seen as an act of aggression that might rile local sentiments and result in unexpected backlash" he warns.  

It should be recalled at this point that the European Union launched on Wednesday a request for the cessation of hostilities in Libya, which aggravates the humanitarian catastrophe in the country. This appeal has not yet been heard. The third session of the joint military talks (5+5 Committee) between delegations from both sides, held under the umbrella of the UN, had also been convened this Wednesday. We will have to wait and see if it produces any concrete results. So far, all attempts to resolve the conflict in this way have failed. Both Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, traditional allies of the LNA, continue to remind us that "the political solution is the only acceptable one in Libya".