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January 5, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9121

Russian Expert Mirzayan: For Erdogan, Libya, Not Syria, Is The Real Prize

January 5, 2021
Libya, Russia, Syria, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 9121

Gevorg Mirzayan, a prolific columnist, Middle East expert and a professor at Russia's Financial University evaluated Turkey's role in Libya in an article for the Russian edition of Russia Today. He argues that Libya with its huge reserves of hydrocarbons is a far bigger prize than Syria. Its coastline and proximity to Europe allow the parties in control to control the flow of refugees to Europe and block the installation of pipelines by pressing maritime claims. Turkey that backs the government in Tripoli of Faiz Saraj, has established a strong military and intelligence presence in the country and is issuing threats against Khalifa Haftar Saraj's rival. Mirzayan claims that Turkey's Achilles heel is its inability to craft a diplomatic solution, because it has put all its eggs in Saraj's basket. As a result, it could find itself upstaged by Egypt that has contacts with both sides in Libya.

Mirzayan's analysis follows below:[1]


Turkish President Recep Erdogan with the head of the Tripoli government Faiz Saraj (Source: Libyaobserver.ly)

"The region of the Middle East and North Africa are chronically unlucky: after the start of the Arab Spring, these countries’ became territories for “wars on the periphery”. These are grim geopolitical sandboxes where regional and great powers play and resolve their conflicts. And if in 2020 only two countries Syria and Yemen have ongoing military conflicts, then in 2021 Libya can completely join them. In Libya, everything is just beginning (in contrast to the practically restored Syrian playground, and Yemeni one, which is also close to its political resolution). All this thanks to Turkey, which sent troops to Libya, at the invitation of the internationally recognized country’s authorities in Tripoli, headed by Faiz Saraj (one of the parties to the Libyan civil war, the second is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar based in Benghazi, who is being supported by most of the army and by the parliament).

Control Of Libya Allows Turkey To Squeeze Europe

"Turkey did not send troops as a charitable action- Ankara is trying to protect its national interests in the country, as well as its own vision of the geopolitical structure in the Mediterranean. For Turkey, which exists in a systemic conflict with the European Union, Libyan territory presents a number of very promising opportunities.

"Foremost [I’m talking about] oil and gas opportunities; not only because Libya has huge reserves of hydrocarbons, but also because uninterrupted supply of oil and gas is required for EU within the framework of the European policy of “diversification”.

"So far, the problem is the “uninterrupted” condition of such supplies - there is no central government in Libya, so local tribes can simply block the work of terminals based on their personal interests.

"Turkish troops, if they wish, can easily solve this problem, because the Libyans, who exist within conditions of intertribal relations, honor as a sacred truth moto: “subjugate the weak, crush the strong, and obey those who are stronger.” Ankara is able not only to derive income from these oil fields, but also open or close oil and gas supplies for European consumers at will.

"Control over Libya also provides military and political opportunities. With all due respect to Yemen (located near the main oil transportation routes) and Syria (located in the center of the Middle East), the geopolitical significance of Libya is much more important.

"The country has an extensive coastline, along which it is convenient to deploy naval bases (right at Europe’s underbelly). Additionally, the contour of this coastline allowed Turkey to conclude an agreement with Faiz Saraj on exclusive economic zones in such fashion, that the borders of these zones separate the entire eastern Mediterranean [Sea] from its western part.

"That is (roughly speaking), if the Cypriots, Egyptians or Israelis decide to construct a pipeline from their offshore oil fields to European markets via sea, they will pass either through Turkish or Libyan territory. (In the latter case, considering Ankara’s control over Tripoli, Libyan territory should be understood as also Turkish territory). Or these pipelines might not even happen, if Turkey will prohibit their installation."


Gevorg Mirzayan (Source: Media.az)

Controlling The Migration Tap

"Finally, control over Libya also provides “migration opportunities”. North Africa is the second (along with the Middle East) reservoir of refugees, who are trying to get into the European Union. And Libya serves as the bottleneck for them. On the Libyan coast refugees get on their fragile little boats, and only the luckiest ones arrive to the coast of Italy. Control over Libya will allow Erdogan to turn the bottleneck into a gateway (as Gaddafi once did) and use it to blackmail the European Union on political and economic issues. Especially now, after the terrorist attacks in France and Austria, Europe is gravely concerned about the presence of a huge number of non-integrated Muslims on its territory.

"The combination of clearly defined national interests, political will and a legitimate military presence makes Turkey’s position in Libya very strong.

"The Turkish soldiers are not only located at the [military] bases, but also actively interact with the units loyal to Faiz Saraj, and in particular, train them. The main obstacle to the implementation of the Turkish plan is Khalifa Haftar and the eastern part of the country not controlled by Ankara. Thanks to Turkish combat drones, attempts by forces loyal to Haftar to seize Tripoli have failed. However, the field marshal and his people control most of the country’s oil and gas fields.

"In this regard, the statements by Hulusi Akar, Turkish Defense Minister, who recently paid a visit to Libya, are quite interesting.

"He bluntly stated that an attack by Haftar’s forces on Turkish soldiers (whose likelihood is high, given the ongoing hostilities and the integration of Turkish Armed Forces units with Saraj's troops) will lead to “the transformation of the war criminal and assassin Haftar into a legitimate target.”

"That is, translating from diplomatic language to Russian, Turkey reserves the right at any time to claim that an attack on Turkish soldiers has happened and send drones to eliminate Khalifa Haftar.

"From a military point of view, this is not difficult task to accomplish: the Libyans still haven't found effective means of defense against Turkish drones. Likewise, one shouldn't underestimate the organizational and financial capabilities of Ankara's intelligence services for identifying the whereabouts of Khalifa Haftar.

"Problems may arise in the political sphere - after all, not only Libyan tribes back the field marshal, but also many foreign countries. (The loyalty of these tribes is unreliable, please refer to the aforementioned principle “subjugate the weak, crush the strong, and obey those who are stronger.”).

Turkey's Achilles Heel And Egypt's Advantage

"So, while Ankara is thinking about what to do [in Libya], the weak point of Turkish policy is becoming apparent - the lack of an alternative to military action. The fact is that in Libya, as in other fields on which Erdogan is playing, he can apply pressure, but is unable to start a negotiation process, due to an overly aggressive stance and also because the Turks, as the saying goes, “put all their eggs in one basket”.

"Therefore, now the Egyptians have become the Turks’ rivals in the struggle for control over Libya. Cairo officially supports Khalifa Haftar, however (unlike Ankara) does not threaten Saraj and his government with physical destruction. Instead, the Egyptian authorities are trying to play the role of intermediaries.

"Immediately after Hulusi Akar’s visit, a high-ranking Egyptian military delegation arrived in Tripoli. Apparently, the Egyptians are trying to sponsor a peace agreement between Tripoli and Benghazi; and in exchange they want to legitimize their control over the eastern part of the country, leaving the western part to the Turks.

"Of course, this does not suit Erdogan. The question is, what can he do in this situation?  - Remain silent, sabotage the process through undercover negotiations? Or can he flip the chessboard via [military] actions against Khalifa Haftar?"


Faiz Saraj with Egyptian President Abd Al-Fatah Al-Sisi (Source: Kuna.net.kw)

 

[1] Russian.rt.com, December 28, 2020.

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