Libya: Threat of an Egypt-Turkey war?

After Turkish Foreign Minister Mr Mevlut Cavusoglu turned down cease-fire offers, he pronounced that Turkish proxies and the forces loyal to National Government of Accord shall not sit at the peace table, until the coastal town Sirte and airbase al Jufra shall have been “liberated”. After he threw own the gauntlet, Haftar’s government invited Egypt to intervene in the country to rescue it.  Much is being said about an Egypt-Turkey war, but given the geography and   poor state finances in rival nations, large-scale conflict is highly unlikely.  One of our trusted source, Middle East Monitor explains the “real facts on the ground”:

Haftar’s catastrophic failure to take Tripoli following Turkey’s intervention was a strong blow to his allies, especially the UAE and Egypt. If Egypt decides to cross the border and intervene in its capacity as the most affected by the drawback, the UAE will find itself under pressure from the international community to find a peaceful solution and settle the conflict. Moreover, if Russia becomes more involved, it will face a major response from the US.

Egypt in an awkward  position

In this context, Egypt found itself in an awkward position when President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi threatened last month to intervene directly in Libya if the internationally recognised GNA enters Sirte, which is more than 900 km from the Egyptian border. Al-Sisi described Sirte as a red line, the crossing of which threatens Egypt’s national security. To demonstrate his seriousness, he carried out military manoeuvres on Egypt’s side of the border. Codenamed “Decisive 2020” they included exercises aimed at “eliminating mercenary elements from irregular armies”.

It seems that the Egyptian threats and manoeuvres will not change the new reality in Libya, and it is clear that Cairo’s aspirations have become more realistic. According to the Jerusalem Post, the current conflict in Libya is split along two tracks: Haftar’s control will bring to Libya a kind of conservative military rule that resists change, as in Egypt and the Gulf states. As for the Turkish-backed GNA, it may have a problem regarding the fragile stability after the blows caused by Haftar. Despite this, Turkey has proven that it is more skillful in transferring arms and defence technology to Libya. Its drones defeated the Russian missile defence system that the UAE took to Libya. This is how the Turkish backed forces managed to push Haftar’s militias back.

Given the international politics and developments in the field, will Libya remain physically divided along the red lines that Sisi referred to, and before him Putin, preventing the GNA from controlling Sirte and Al-Jafra Air Base in the heart of the country? Will Egypt interfere in a direct manner in Libya, rather than just providing arms as well as technical and air support? Will Egypt engage in a confrontation with Turkey?

All of this seems unlikely, as any intervention, if it happens, will be limited. Haftar and his supporters’ dream of controlling all of Libya is no longer possible.

On paper, the strength of the Turkish army is more or less the same as its Egyptian counterpart; both have F-16 jets and hundreds of other combat aircraft. The Egyptian army is the ninth strongest in the world on paper, with thousands of tanks. Turkey’s is placed at eleventh, but it is likely that being a member of NATO makes its forces more effective than Egypt’s.

Turkish Army is more effective

That’s the theory. In reality, there is a wide gap in ability and effectiveness. Egypt has not been tested in any external confrontation for a long time, and for nearly half a century has been engaged in fighting weak armed groups at home. Its confrontations with the Daesh forces in the Sinai Peninsula for the past seven years have exposed its inefficiency in eliminating a limited insurgency by fewer than 700 fighters.

Turkey has experience and effectiveness in the face of a rebellion; its army has been involved in Syria for years, and deals with the Kurdish PKK forces. Turkish forces also tackled Daesh at its strongest.

And..the bottom line

The bottom line is that a war between Egypt and Turkey in Libya is unlikely. Such talk is illogical given that Al-Sisi’s “intervention” would be limited if it happens at all. Turkey, however, has shown that it is serious about standing alongside the GNA and committing to its vital interests and national security. Russia is aware that Turkey will not shift from its position in Libya, while the US realises that Ankara is determined to achieve its goals, and Washington is keen to support the Turkish government in order to limit its cooperation with Moscow and Tehran.

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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.