What do developments in Libya signal?

“Behind closed doors, they are saying ‘Turkey was right.’ When compared to Khalifa Haftar, they are saying that Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the Government of National Accord (GNA) is a trustworthy person. However, they do not state it openly because doing so would also give credit to Turkey.”

These are the words of a top-level official in Ankara, who spends a great deal of time on Turkey’s role in Libya in addition to numerous national matters. The groups mentioned in this statement are mostly the officials of Western countries, whose positions concerning Libya are vague.

The Libya issue needs to be considered as an “internal affair” from now on. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan mentioning Libya in his speeches after the onset of the coronavirus is a clear sign that this matter is on Ankara’s close radar.

UN-backed GNA forces, openly supported by Ankara, captured the critical Watiya Military Air Base the previous day. This is terrible news for the putschist Haftar forces. They were actively using this air base, which they had control of since 2014, for air raids. Now they have lost this too.

GNA officials have declared that they will continue to advance until all cities of Libya are liberated. Additionally, government officials are continuing to use a cautious tone rather than being swept up in the euphoria of victory.

What they are saying is:

“Sarraj has the upper hand. The NATO secretary-general’s statements are an example of this. These are important. On the other hand, affairs in Libya have always progressed on rocky ground. Tribes clash from time to time or change sides. Zintan locals say one thing while Misrata locals say another.”

Russia, UAE, Egypt bent on supporting Haftar

President Erdoğan held a telephone conversation recently with Prime Minister Sarraj. Sarraj, who knocked on Ankara’s door when Haftar started to advance toward Tripoli about a year ago, saying, “We have nowhere else to go,” is aware that the latest progress made is thanks to Turkey’s support. Turkish UAVs, which did a great job in the Syrian airspace when the Idlib crisis broke out, are displaying the same finesse in Libya as well. The latest news received was that two Pantsir Air Defense Systems were destroyed.

Additionally, Russia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt are hell-bent on maintaining their support to Haftar. The official I spoke to is saying that Moscow and Abu Dhabi in particular are making serious deployments to Haftar’s forces, and that the advantages of the Assad regime are also utilized in these shipments:

“Abu Dhabi has assumed the financial aspect of this matter. Previously, the mercenary soldiers project implemented through Sudan had collapsed. When the Sudanese, who were taken to Libya with the promise of work, reacted by saying, “We did not come here to fight,” their plan went awry. They are now doing this through the Assad regime, namely, Syria.”

The UAE is so hell bent against Turkey that it is adamant on using whatever opportunity is available. When the Idlib ceasefire was announced between Russia and Turkey in early March, they had even offered money to the Damascus regime for it to flout the ceasefire.

In addition to Abu Dhabi’s said sinister moves, the official I am quoting specifically evaluates Russia’s “interest” in Libya. They explain that President Vladimir Putin’s Moscow, which became included in the Mediterranean equation through its intervention in Syria, is working to strengthen its influence in Libya by taking advantage of the disorder in the West:

“Putin is filling the strategic vacuums left by the West. This disorder, lack of focus has provided Putin an opportunity. They formed an air corridor from the Hmeimim base in Syria to Libya.”

After making this evaluation, this official also mentions Haftar’s circumstance with a little surprise:

“Haftar is a figure trained and brought to Libya by the CIA. In other words, he is someone trained and paid by U.S. intelligence. Now, he is being used by Russia. Could there be a better example of the U.S.’s mental instability than this?”

Yes, there could be no better example to explain the the U.S.’s mentality with respect to several other matters in addition to Libya, and the moves made by Putin, a state president with an intelligence background, aimed at filling in this vacuum.

However, in any case, the current scene tells another story.

It is a fact that Haftar, who is backed by Russia’s weapons, the UAE’s money, Egypt’s Arab nationalism ideology, and Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s putschist understanding, is starting to lose all he has.

Haftar sure has his work cut out for him if he is trying to turn the tides in his favor.

*By: Mehmet Acet. (The article was published in Yeni Safak Turkish newspaper on May 20, 2020.)