This title is not intended to trivialize the very serious nature of the deadly conflict in Libya; the situation is an ever-escalating humanitarian disaster, and has been since US State and NATO destroyed the country in 2011.
On December 14th an air cargo transport of Belgian FN arms from Ostend was supplied to Misrata rebels by a United Arab Emirates contractor. Whether the UAE weapons shipment was contracted to undertake an uprising in Misrata prior to Erdogan's clash with Tobruk (Haftar) and Greece over Misrata and the proposed Turkish energy corridor is unclear. Misrata rebels have supplied cheap oil to Turkey and acted somewhat autonomously. Now, the potential for a major new catastrophe in Libya cannot be ignored.
Turkish leader Erdogan is coming from a perceived victory in northeast Syria, where Turk forces established a significant neutral zone which has largely held despite major condemnation by the west, and a large dose of help from Russian forces. Whether Erdogan can return over one million Syrian refugees in Turkey to this swathe of (mostly) unpopulated Syrian desert is unknown and also highly unlikely.
Now Erdogan has turned again to Libya (Turkey imports oil from Libya) but Libya is a far different prospect than Syria. In Syria, only the terror enclave of Idlib province remains and the legitimate government of Syria is well established, while Libya is far more fractured.
Erdogan likely feels emboldened by the military pact for a rapid response force he signed with Libya’s Government of National Accord in November of 2019. Upon signing the pact* a key statement from Erdogan reads:
The eastern Mediterranean region harbors huge hydrocarbon reserves and we have received information about some firms discovering the substance in that area. We might cooperate with some global companies in that regard.
Recall that on October 17th Erdogan boasted about tearing up a letter from Donald Trump exhorting Erdogan to act responsibly. Then on November 29th Erdogan undiplomatically called France’s Macron brain dead just prior to the December NATO summit. The slights are obviously intended to appeal to Erdogan’s domestic political base. But now, apparently in a wish to surpass Suleiman the Magnificent, Erdogan has declared a vast swathe of the eastern Mediterranean to be under Turkish control, including an energy resource-rich region around Crete.
As if this were not enough, Erdogan has also threatened to close two US bases in Turkey in response to US sanctions, saying, "If necessary, we'll close Incirlik and also Kurecik". Erdogan seems to sense a power vacuum in Washington, and the continued fade of US influence to leverage power in the region -- where the US is relying on the weaponization of the US dollar in lieu of military force.
Erdogan must also appreciate a certain malaise in the European Union, where the EU is losing a key member, Britain, which will certainly weaken the European Union overall and shift the EU’s focus at least temporarily.
Also emboldening Erdogan could be a rather blown election in Algeria. Algeria is another oil power and could be a progressive and stabilizing influence in Northern Africa. Unfortunately, Algeria continues to be ruled by a quasi-militarist regime that is in no position to inspire progressive new ideals in Libya, or to oppose the Turk agenda there.
What is tragically lost in this narrative is the plight of Libya's people, and the crisis they have been forced to endure since US State's failed-state war on Libya began in 2011. Further consideration for Libya's people, for Libya's strategic location as a hub for emigration to Europe, and gateway to the Sahel region, is hopelessly lost in this narrative as well.
Of course reality on the ground is of little importance to Empire where only geo-political equations regarding energy resources, gold, diamonds, and uranium seem to matter. But this must not overlook the waning influence of US power, which creates failed states for short-term gain and does little to consider the long-term tragic effect of its imperial action on people. Perhaps Erdogan looks upon the United States as being a failed state, too.
In Libya one misunderstood factor is the split among Warfalla, some of whom support the Tripoli Government of National Accord and some of whom support Haftar’s Libyan National Army, but where nearly all Warfalla support Saif al Islam Gaddafi as the only politician who might re-unite the country.
Since Ghaddafi has been forced into hiding, some Warfalla factions support Haftar's Libyan National Army and others support Sarraj's Government of National Accord. However the people of Bani Walid still maintain their hope for the concept of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (or Libyan ‘State of the Masses’) being Gaddafi’s interpretation for socialism in Libya, which did not die with Muammar Gaddafi.
Support for Libyan Arab Jamahiriya potentially lives on in the people of Bani Walid and many of the Warfalla who support Saif al Islam Gaddafi, who is favoured among many Libyan people. The idea that Saif al Islam Gaddafi could stand for election has been proposed as far afield as the Russian leadership**, and by popular political voice in Libya.
But Saif al-islam Gaddafi faces two major hurdles to being an electoral candidate. The first and foremost hurdle is that Khalifa Belqasim Haftar has threatened to execute him at-sight. The second hurdle for Gaddafi is the International Criminal Court which hopes to try Gaddafi for humanitarian offenses, as alleged during the US State-sponsored Libyan revolution of 2011. [Note: the United States is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court treaty and does not recognise the United Nations Declaration Of Human Rights, 1948]
Due to such circumstances, Brigade 93 (or Yahtrib Brigade Libya) -- and other Gaddafi loyalists such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Libya -- have provisionally aligned with Haftar’s Libyan National Army instead of Gaddafi. (al Qaeda and ISIS in Libya were largely routed and defeated in northern Libya by these brigades.) Meanwhile Gaddafi loyalists have softened their opposition to the Government of National Accord, since the GNA refused to hand over Seif al Islam to the ICC, and since the GNA has renounced its former ties to takfiri terror.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Government of National Accord has recently questioned the bonafide’s of the International Criminal Court and will not ‘surrender’ Saif al-Islam to their jurisdiction.
[Link: Will Libya back away from allowing Gaddafi to stand trial at the ICC? https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20191121-will-libya-back-away-from-allowing-gaddafi-to-stand-trial-at-the-icc/]
Evidently Saif al-islam’s former captors the Zintan appreciate Gaddafi’s intellectual capacity and appreciation for Libya’s potential future too, but al Sarraj and Haftar consider Gaddafi to be a major threat, and that is why elections in Libya have been postponed. Whether the Zintan can continue to protect Gaddafi or Gaddafi can secure major backing – for example from the Russian leadership – is unclear, but at this point the prospect seems unlikely.
While Libya vacillates between the GNA’s weak ruler Sarraj, and the ruthless Haftar (and populist leader Saif al-Islam Gaddafi remains in hiding) Libya is experiencing renewed violence and major clashes especially in Misrata and Tripoli, relatively unreported in the west. The Belgian arms received in Misurata were in consequence with Haftar’s announcement of a renewed western offensive; whether the arms were intended to provoke a Misrata uprising is unclear but according to sources Misrata has not fallen to Haftar’s LNA despite attacks and bombings there. (Haftar’s western offensive was originally undertaken in April of this year, but quickly stalled.)
Interestingly, Gaddafi loyalists have denounced the civil war in Libya as being a Turkish-Qatari conspiracy. Due to the success of this ‘Turk-Qatar conspiracy’ (Qatar hosts a Turkish military base and cooperates closely with Turkey in Muslim brotherhood causes) and Erdogan’s sense of a power vacuum in Washington and Europe, Erdogan has been emboldened in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean.
In tandem with Turkey’s strategic re-positioning with regard to Russia, and latent challenge to NATO hegemony, Erdogan has de facto revived an old conflict with Greece over Cyprus as well. Erdogan’s posturing begs the question as to what happens when a false construct like NATO gets too large with too many inflated members, and one member is perhaps willing to go to war with another. Since the purpose of NATO is not to protect the west from a non-existent USSR, perhaps NATO’s purpose should be to protect itself from itself.
Meanwhile Erdogan the Hopeful and Magnificent has acted cleverly as a domestic and international figure, and is possibly headed to brinksmanship --- but with who or whom brinksmanship will play out, is hard to say. Here is why.
The Tripoli Government of National Accord is aligned with Turkey, Qatar, the European Union, and Ukraine since the full collapse of the Libyan National Salvation government in 2016. The GNA is endorsed by the United Nations and its leader, al Sarraj, has ideological links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Opposing Tripoli is the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (or Libyan Interim Government which was declared unconstitutional) under CIA asset Haftar as backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and France. (Note France’s double role as EU component.)
Now Erdogan’s magnificent bluster about seizing Libya for Turkey -- and a portion of the eastern Mediterranean -- has expanded opposition to the GNA, with Greece now entering the fray to protect its interests from potential Turkish seizure. Erdogan’s move will thus force the government of Greece more prominently into the realm of US and Israeli influence.
Strangely since Turkey is a NATO member and relies on the United States for trade, Mr Erdogan seems to be emulating Saddam Hussein instead of Suleiman the Magnificent. However, one source has stated that Turkish military boots will be on the ground in Libya by the 15th of January, 2020. (NB: the foregoing has not been independently confirmed.)
At the expense of repetition, what’s tragically lost in this narrative is the plight of the Libyan people and the warfare, violence, death, destruction, and horror that they have been forced to endure. They have been forced to endure that destruction by Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton, with scheming by the European Union and NATO tossed in.
Further consideration for Libya's people, for Libya's strategic location as a hub for emigration to Europe, and gateway to the Sahel region, has been hopelessly lost in this narrative, while the morally bankrupt major powers scramble for advantage and Recep the Magnificent struts and frets about the stage. How many more will die due to his neo-Ottoman obsession and the moral bankruptcy of the west, is anyone’s guess.
*The pact has yet to be approved by the Turkish parliament
**In the western press Russia is said to back dictator Haftar, however there is some dispute regarding the accuracy of this allegation. Russian interest is extended to its largely economic interest in stabilizing the Sahel region to indeed develop resources there, in mutual aid of the people of the Sahel and in a peaceful and productive manner.
Steve Brown is the author of "Iraq: the Road to War" (Sourcewatch) editor of "Bush Administration War Crimes in Iraq" (Sourcewatch) "Trump's Limited Hangout" and "Federal Reserve: Out-sourcing the Monetary System to the Money Trust Oligarchs Since 1913"; Steve is an antiwar activist, a published scholar on the US monetary system, and has appeared as guest contributor to The Duran, Fort Russ News, Herland Report, Lew Rockwell, The Ron Paul Institute, and Strategika51.