By Giovanni Giacalone, Analyst KEDISA
Turkey’s threat in Libya and the risk of supporting the GNA
On November 27th 2019, the Turkish government and Tripoli’s Presidential Council, led by Fayez al-Sarraj, signed an agreement for military and maritime assistance; in few words, Turkey will be providing full military support to Tripoli in its fight against the Tobruk-based government of Eastern Libya and its LNA.
A very serious issue, considering that Libya is already in a dramatic situation, internally divided, with its infrastructures destroyed, after an eight year-long civil war that hasn’t reached an end yet.
However, Turkey’s take-over of Western Libya also comes as a consequence of hazardous political decisions on behalf of the EU, starting with the offensive against Ghedafi that pulled the country into total chaos.
Italy, which historically maintains strong links with Libya, picked Fayez al-Sarraj’s side (together with Turkey and Qatar) while in the meantime maintaining the rhetoric of mediation, claiming not to be in favor of anyone but rather “in favor of the Libyan people”. A “one foot here, one foot there” pseudo-strategy, often backed by the theory that “Italy was born with a mediating role” that brings no long-term results, as facts currently show.
The risks of Italy’s support for al-Sarraj
In reality, Rome’s connections to the GNA are evident from Italy’s strong activity through its diplomatic HQ in Tripoli, its military presence (around 350 soldiers) in Misrata to safeguard the military field hospital, its political support to the al-Sarraj government and material support to its militias operating on the coast, officially to “contain illegal immigration”, even though the flow did not stop at all. Let’s keep well in mind how in July 2019 al-Sarraj flew to Milan to meet with Matteo Salvini (who was Minister of Interior at the time) in order to look for support as situation became far more complicated for Tripoli.
Unfortunately, the support for Tripoli was predictably inappropriate, for many reasons:
- The government led by al-Sarraj is not supported by a real army, but rather by a galaxy of militias related to different realities such as Ikhwanis, Salafis, local warlords and former members of the Libyan army, all kept together by economic and political interests. These militias have managed to create an oligopoly of resources and they influence all issues of life in Western Libya. Can such actors be considered reliable representatives in order to pursue a stability in Libya? Obviously not.
- It is very likely that it is not Fayez al-Sarraj who is controlling the militias but it’s rather the other way around.
- Al-Sarraj’s government is heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamist organization that has been blacklisted by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Syria and Russia.
- The links between militias fighting on Tripoli’s side and jihadists belonging to Isis and Ansar al-Sharia have emerged on several occasions, such as Adel al-Rubaie, Issa al-Busti, Massound al-Akouri and Mohamed Mahmoud Ben Dardaf.
As a matter of fact, siding with Tripoli and Misrata doesn’t only mean siding with Islamists and warlords often involved in illegal trafficking (including immigrant trafficking), quite a big responsibility, but it also implies betting on an unstable conglomerate of groups that are exclusively moved by particular interest.
The reason for such proximity between Rome and Tripoli can be partially considered a heritage of the disastrous foreign policy led by the Obama-administrations during the so called “Arab Spring”, that saw the Muslim Brotherhood as a privileged representative to be “democratically elected” in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria in order to replace the previous regimes. However, facts did not proceed as planned and the region plummeted into chaos. Despite all this, it seems that some political and institutional actors within the EU still haven’t realized how counterproductive the support to political Islamism can be.
The links between Turkey and radical Islam
The fact that Fayez al-Sarraj opened the doors to Turkey’s presence it is not a case. Firstly, Turkey and Qatar were already heavily supporting Tripoli and Misrata with economic and military aid. Additionally, let’s keep well in mind that Turkey and Qatar are the two main sponsors and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is strongly present in Serraj’s government. What a coincidence.
Let’s recall how the Doha-based MB’s spiritual leader, Yusuf Qaradawi, was calling for jihad in Syria against Assad and for the resistance against Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (accused of overthrowing the Islamist-led government).
As to Turkey, it is well known how Erdogan’s men materially supported jihadists in Syria and treated the wounded ones in Turkish hospitals. It is also a fact that the Turkish government carried out a crackdown on journalists and reporters who exposed MIT’s flow of weapons to jihadists in Syria. After all, Turkey is considered one of the biggest prisons for journalists in the world. A country where an armed assailant can shoot the chief-editor of an opposing newspaper in front of a courthouse and can even get away with it.
Turkey must be stopped in Libya
Erdogan’s military men and militia-men linked to various jihadist groups who have been operating in Syria are now being moved to Libya, pouring more” gasoline on fire”. After all, wherever Turkey placed its hands, destructions followed, not only in Syria and in Kurdish territories, but also in Iraq, as occurred for instance in Mosul during the offensive led by Isis.
Erdogan will have his re-match in Libya, after being forced by the Kremlin to abandon the project of overthrowing Assad. However, this scenario comes at great cost for Europe as Erdogan will be able to blackmail the EU using the immigration crisis, as already done from the East through the “Greek gate”.
Additionally, this time jihadist veterans from Syria will be operating only a few miles from the European coasts and they will easily take advantage of the illegal flow of boats to infiltrate Europe.
In conclusion, the Turkish presence in Western Libya is putting at serious stake the safety and security of Europe. In the next phase it will be interesting to see if those EU countries who are directly threatened by this new scenario will have the courage to take solid and clear steps to safeguard its territory, rather than opting for dubious “mediation” that tastes more like an attempt to avoid taking position.