Turkey’s intervention in Libya has been garnering media attention for the past two weeks. The two main warring factions in Libya, the Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez Al Sarraj and the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Hafter have each been receiving support from foreign governments. The GNA’s main international backer has been the Erdogan government in Turkey, while the UAE, Egypt, Russia and France have been supporting its LNA rival. Earlier in the year, the LNA had the upper hand in the conflict, as it successfully captured Sirte, a city that is abundant with oil fields as well as the capital city of Tripoli, both cities have been Holy Grails that both sides had long coveted. The conflict seemed to have been coming to an end as the LNA seemed destined for victory, but Turkish military intervention in the civil war gave the GNA a boost in military prowess and morale, as it successfully captured Tripoli in early June as well as its neighbouring towns. Furthermore, the GNA would go on to launch a campaign to seize Sirte. The situation took another twist, as Egypt has been warning that it might take a more direct approach in Libya if the situation escalated further in Sirte in fears that the conflict might spill over to Egyptian soil. On July 21, the Egyptian parliament approved of sending military personnel to participate in the Libyan conflict, sparking fears that the civil war in Libya might escalate into a proxy war between various powers in the region.
Throughout this conflict, most European powers took a rather hands off approach towards the civil war. Such a cautious move is understandable considering the last time Europe became involved in Libya was during the 2011 when air attacks from British, French and Italian forces helped rebel forces remove Colonel Gaddaffi from power in October of that year. While Europe helped with the revolt, it left Libya during the crucial period afterwards when it meant to rebuilding after the almost yearlong conflict. Afterwards, of course, Libya became the most unstable country in North Africa, as warring factions and tribes fought tooth and nail for control of the country, and this instability caused it to become a port country in which smugglers transport refugees and illegal migrants into Europe. As a result, Europe has now lost its willingness to directly intervene in Libya, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has lost all interest in the country, especially considering the fact that civil unrest in North Africa can and will have an impact on the security of Europe, particularly European states that occupy the coasts of the Mediterranean sea. The recent escalations in Libya have garnered differing responses throughout Europe, namely in France and Russia as both governments have directly come at odds with Erdogan’s military intervention.
MACRON BEGRUDGINGLY ADOPTS A NEUTRAL STANCE
Most of the EU have adopted a neutral stance in the current Libyan conflict, some states have even indirectly given military support to both warring factions. An example of this would be Germany, which circumvented an international arms embargo on Libya by exporting arms to both Turkey and the UAE, which are the largest supporters of the GNA and the LNA, respectively. However, one government that has been expressively supportive of Khalifa Hafter’s forces was the current French government led by President Emmanuel Macron. Over the years, the Macron government has been assisting Hafter with intelligence support, military training and military equipment. Macron has also gone on record to criticise Turkey’s interference in the conflict, citing that Ankara’s “criminal role” would lead to further destabilisation in Libya. He also pointed out that Turkey had imported jihadists from Syria to aid its GNA ally. However, in recent days following the GNA’s capture of Tripoli and Sirte, it appears now that Macron has changed his tone with regards to the conflict. In early July, Macron declared that his government had now adopted a neutral stance in the conflict, and is supportive of a UN-backed peace process. While he did not elaborate on his change of tone, it seems that the French government might have reluctantly accepted defeat in the conflict and might now see Hafter as a liability rather than an asset.
RUSSIA AGREES TO HOLD TALKS WITH TURKEY
Moscow and Ankara are not strangers when it comes to conflicts in the Middle East. While Erdogan supported jihadist rebel factions in Syria, Vladimir Putin was backing his long time ally in the region the Assad regime. It was Moscow’s relentless aid that ultimately gave Assad’s forces a strategic edge over its adversaries, and led to their eventual victory. Just as they clashed in Syria, both Turkey and Russia aligned with different factions in Libya with the former supporting the GNA and the latter supporting the LNA. However, this time the tides had turned, as Turkey is currently the one that has the Russian ally backed in the corner. In recent days, it seems that Russia has taken a similar stance to that of the French government as it agreed with its Ankara counterparts to a ceasefire. Moreover, the Russian government has also agreed to joint international talks, which would facilitate peace dialogues in Libya. In spite of these concessions, Ankara still had another demand namely a withdrawal of Haftar’s forces in the Eastern front of the country, whether or not Russia will agree to such concessions remains to be seen.
WHAT COMES NEXT FOR LIBYA?
It seems now that as far as European powers are concerned, the conflict has ended in favour the GNA and Turkey. However, while Europe might have given up hope for Haftar, it seems that other regional powers are still not prepared to throw in the hat. Egypt’s plans to intervene in Libya might create a more complex quagmire for Europe, and it will most likely be a quagmire that few will want to be directly involved in. As Turkey is a NATO ally, most NATO states will most likely not want to militarily clash with it. However, both Egypt and the UAE are valuable allies to the EU and Russia. As a result, these powers will not want to appear apathetic towards Egypt and the UAE’s security concerns. If the conflict in Libya is escalated further, then the instability in the region will likely spill over towards Europe. By then, many European powers will find it difficult to ignore the conflict, and many states might be pushed towards reluctant intervention.
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