Turkey, Qatar and the Return of ISIS to Libya

Emile Amin
CAIRO – Are Turkey and Qatar openly backing terrorists in Libya? And if so, why has the international community remained silent over the issue? Why hasn’t it taken serious action to address the situation and resolve the Libyan crisis once and for all?

As it stands, the Libyan National Army (LNA) is trying to rid the country of terrorism and terrorists. Simultaneously, intense efforts are underway to bring in ISIS members, who have fled Syria and Iraq, into Libyan regions that are controlled by militias. International intelligence agencies have the evidence to prove this.

Turkish meddling

It is no secret that Turkey and Qatar are behind the developments in Libya. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who failed in spreading his Islamist agenda during the so-called Arab Spring, is now attempting to make up for his losses by meddling in Libya. It represents his last hope to revive his illusions. He believes that if extremists succeed in Libya, then their influence may spread to neighboring Tunisia in the west and Egypt in the east. Egypt, he believes, spoiled his plans in recent years when the people revolted in June 2013.

Developments in Libya have exposed Ankara’s supplying of weapons to militias in flagrant violation of the arms embargo imposed on the country since 2011. Intelligence agencies received information in the past two weeks of the arrival of several Ukrainian aircraft to Tripoli from Ankara loaded with weapons for the pro-Government of National Accord (GNA) militias.

The GNA, which has lost its aerial firepower, is in much need of aerial support. It is working tirelessly to bring in drones from Turkey in an attempt to cause as much damage as possible against the LNA. Ankara has so far supplied the GNA with eight attack drones, in violation of the arms embargo.

In addition to weapons, Turkey has sent intelligence agents to support the Tripoli-based militias and terrorist groups, revealed a Libyan military source. The LNA has obtained the names of 19 Turkish officers, whom Ankara has dispatched to Libya to operate the drones.

As for Qatar, militias it supports planted French-made Javelin rockets in LNA weapons storehouses to make it appear as if it was violating the embargo. Doha has also helped the militias purchase advanced weapons from Bulgaria and later smuggled them to Libya.

ISIS return

Are Turkey and Qatar facilitating the return of ISIS to Libya? It is no secret that extremists residing in Qatar, who are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, are active these days in bringing in terrorists from Iraq and Syria to Libya. While Doha exploits its transportation companies to that end, Erdogan has opened up his airports for these terrorists.

Libyan MP Ali al-Saeedi confirmed Turkey’s involvement in transporting terrorists to his country. He stressed that the extremists seek to fight the LNA during its operation against Tripoli.

Moreover, the ISIS affiliate in Libya recently reemerged in the country. The group released a video of Mahmoud al-Baraasi, known as Abu Musab al-Libi, the founder of the ISIS affiliate in Benghazi, vowing to wage attacks against the LNA. The video, which showed dozens of militants pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was likely shot in the southern region of Sabha.

In May, ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on an oilfield in the town of Zillah, some 650 kilometers southeast of the capital Tripoli. The attack was seen as an escalation against LNA-held regions in the South.

Returning to Erdogan, what does he really want from Libya?

He is seeking to make up for his political losses in Turkey and his country’s deteriorating economy. He is set to face even greater challenges should Washington impose sanctions on Ankara over its purchase of the S-400 missile defense system from Russia.

Erdogan is ultimately eyeing Libya’s oil and gas reserves to make up for his losses back home.

During the time of late leader Moammar al-Gaddafi, Turkish companies operated in Libya and made billions of dollars in profits. This changed with Gaddafi’s assassination. Ankara managed to establish close ties with the GNA, allowing its companies to again regain a foothold and reap interests. This again came to halt, this time when the LNA launched its operation against Tripoli in April. The army therefore, became a major threat to Turkey’s economic and financial ambitions, pushing it firmly to side with Fayez al-Sarraj’s GNA against the advancing forces.

Any end in sight?

It is obvious that the situation in Libya is complicated, compounded even further by ISIS’ threat. The crisis is now an issue of global security and Europe must step up this time and compensate for the losses that led Libya down its destructive path in the first place. The international community must also take a stand and take decisive positions against Turkey and Qatar’s ambitions.

As for the United States, its stance remains vague, but the administration of Donald Trump is definitely opposed to terrorism. As it stands, however, it is currently distracted by the crisis with Iran.

At any rate, a resolution to the Libyan crisis is unlikely in the near future, which is the best environment for radicals and terrorists to thrive. Will the world therefore, sit idly by as ISIS aspires to open a new bloody chapter, this time on the shores of the Mediterranean?

Turkey’s role in the Libya conflict

Ziad A Akl

TRIPOLI – Turkey has been one of the foreign dimensions in the Libyan conflict since 2011. The role Turkey practises within the context of the Libyan scene is quite diverse, in the sense that it targets various gains, and is empowered by several motives.

Turkish presence in the Arab world and North Africa specifically is an aspect of current Turkish foreign policy. Two main questions appear at this conjuncture: why the ongoing presence in Libya, on one hand, and why the orientation towards a set of alliances that tend to be related to the Islamist stream — a pattern that has been practised by Turkey in more than one case in the context of changes that the Arab world witnessed in the wake of the Arab Spring.

There are two main points that explain the Turkish presence, and intervention in Libya in particular. First, there is the Turkish will to gain more influence within the south of the Mediterranean region, and this influence will be later used as a bargaining card in Turkey’s relations with the West.

The second point is Turkey’s ongoing bet on Islamist forces in the Arab world, hoping that they will materialise regimes loyal to Turkey and the Erdogan trend. The influence of those two factors makes Libya a perfect location for Turkish aspirations at the current moment.

The battle for ridding Tripoli of the influence of militias and illegitimate armed groups has escalated the Turkish-Libyan conflict. The military action taking place at the moment between warring Libyan parties is a materialisation of arguments that have existed in the Libyan conflict since 2011.

Turkey was careful to maintain its contacts with the political and military elites in the Libyan west. The tools Turkey used were quite diversified, between international political pressure, local support for the Presidential Council and frequent illegal provision of arms; the Turks were one of the main actors that empowered the Libyan west. On platforms based on ideology and regional supremacy, Turkey has established a long-term role in Libya.

Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army (LNA) are proceeding into a phase to militarily free Tripoli from the grip of non-institutional armed groups. The battle for Tripoli indicates that military forces at conflict in Libya are still far from settling a most powerful side who can finalise the conflict. This fact is a source of more domestic contention that will extend the time line of the Libyan conflict.

Egypt will be necessarily required to take a role against Turkish intervention into Libya. Libya is always a matter of Egyptian national security, and foreign intervention there is not to be accepted by any means. Moreover, Egypt’s foreign policy believes that a political solution will only come from a Libyan-Libyan solution, through a process of political settlement.

Erdogan has threatened military intervention, and the LNA has responded in turn with the same rhetoric. Prospects of an on-the-ground military intervention seem distant at the current moment, but conflicts are escalating within Libyan-Turkish relations.

Recent developments in post-Arab Spring countries illustrate changes within regional equations of power that govern the core of Arab world politics and its periphery in North Africa or the Middle East. Turkish attempts at intervention point to a process of transformation within dimensions of regional Arab politics.

The ground situation in Libya is still incapable of producing a winning party.

The LNA, on the one hand, is still the most cohesive military power within the Libyan conflict. However, the forces of Misrata do maintain military capability that cannot be underestimated. Both parties are backed by a range of regional and international alliances, making the Libyan scene one where domestic influence does not necessarily rule. The contradiction between domestic and international interests is one of the factors leading prolonging the internal Libyan conflict until now.

The recent resurrection of the conflict in Libya after the Tripoli events raises questions about the prospects of reaching a political settlement. The UN is losing credit on both warring ends, in the east and the west.

Turkey is still chasing its ideology-oriented targets within the Middle East and North Africa region. In addition, there are many construction contracts between Turkey and Libya, and Turkey will not let go of these interests. At the same time, Libya remains a potential place of influence within North Africa, which means that there will be competition over practising influence in it, which Turkey is undoubtedly part of.

The matrix of international alliances at the region is being reshaped, and Turkey is one of the actors that wishes to grab a new range of influence in this phase. It is unlikely that Turkish inference will morph into military intervention, and it is also unlikely that the international community will deem legitimate Turkish actions. Meanwhile, the LNA still follows a strategy that rejects non-institutional entities and refuses foreign intervention in Libya. Turkey’s role, in this regard, is not constructive in any manner, but is rather another tool to protract the domestic Libyan conflict.