LIBYA: Gambling On Peace Via Turkey

 Bby Janet Ekstract

ISTANBUL (TURKISH JOURNAL) – Libya is clearly gambling on peace through Turkish intervention that resulted in its prime minister signing a mutual military accord on November 27, 2019. Turkey is currently finding itself at the center of a firestorm from allies loyal to renegade warlord, Khalifa Haftar who are running scared due to Haftar’s recent major defeats. Despite the firestorm, Turkey has not allowed itself to be deterred in its ultimate goal of making sure the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, prevails.

The gamble for peace has high stakes and most certainly doesn’t come without a cost. Unfortunately, those paying the cost are the Libyan people who made it clear months ago that they welcome Turkish support and don’t seek another Gaddfiesque dictatorship from the likes of Haftar. While Haftar has been relentless in his violation of repeated ceasefires that he agreed to honor, he is also accused of committing international war crimes, currently being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC). With the backing of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France, Greece, Russia and Jordan – Haftar took the gamble, certain he would prevail.

As in all gambles, there are risks and Haftar never bargained on Turkish tenacity or Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s unwillingness to back down in the face of a dictatorial warlord whose self-styled Libya National Army (LNA) gained significant ground by taking over most of eastern, central and western Libya even going so far as to create a blockade on Libya’s oil exports while threatening civilian aircraft entering Libyan airspace since Haftar previously controlled the main airport in Mitiga.

Just several months ago, it appeared that Haftar and his backers might actually achieve their goal of capturing Tripoli to set up a military dictatorship in the nation. Haftar had managed to take a number of strategic towns on the outskirts of Tripoli. The situation was bound to change for Haftar when al-Sarraj requested Turkish assistance in combating Haftar’s forces. Sarraj had initially looked to the EU as a type of watchdog as well as the United States. Though the EU and the U.S. had urged Haftar to come to the negotiating table – there was not to be a lasting ceasefire after his repeated promises that turned into direct violations of a proposed ceasefire in Berlin in January 2020 where Turkey played a pivotal role.

The conundrum as ironic as it was, turned out to be an advantage for Turkey whose leader, Erdogan vowed to defend Libya’s UN-backed, internationally recognized GNA while denouncing Haftar’s self-styled LNA. As a consequence of Libya’s stark isolation on the world stage, its prime minister welcomed Turkey’s offer of military assistance to combat indiscriminate shelling and missile attacks on infrastructure and civilians by Haftar militia as well as his repeated threat to capture Libya’s capital Tripoli.

Turkey’s Erdogan repeatedly made it clear that under no circumstances would he allow Libya’s legitimate government to fall to the hostile forces of renegade Haftar. The Turkish leader has kept his promise putting the GNA on the path to victory with numerous recent Haftar defeats as well as the latest victory – regaining control of al-Watiya Airbase. The GNA forces top commander, Major General Usama Goueili announced the retaking of the airbase on May 18. The airbase was the LNA’s western operations headquarters and the largest airbase across western Libya. GNA forces are also fighting to take back Tarhuna, a strategic town. If they succeed, Haftar will lose his control over central and western Libya.

The crux of the gamble, lies in the fact that the United Nations, the EU and the U.S. failed to reign in Haftar. The reality is that’s not even a possibility because Haftar was never going to agree to anything other than total control of Libya. Not only did he succeed in blocking Libya’s oil exports – Haftar and his militias are responsible for forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, human rights violations and the deaths of over 5,000 civilians – all amounting to crimes against humanity, according to human rights organizations.

Turkey’s challenge lies in the most recent problematic factor: a joint foreign ministry declaration last week from the Greek Cypriot Administration (GCA), Egypt, France, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Their statement targets Turkey largely because these Haftar backers fear his defeat. While these nations back Haftar with weapons, drones and foreign militias, they dared to offer the following statement: “The Ministers strongly condemned Turkey’s military interference in Libya, and urged Turkey to fully respect the UN arms embargo and to stop the influx of foreign fighters from Syria to Libya. These developments constitute a threat to the stability of Libya’s neighbors in Africa as well as in Europe.” Of course, this statement is a contradiction because while Turkey is assisting a UN-backed, internationally recognized Tripoli government, this joint statement is from nations who back an illegal alliance of militias that continue to attack civilians and bombard residential areas killing children and women in the process.

The bottom line is that Haftar is an unapologetic, dictatorial warlord who holds U.S. citizenship because during Gaddafi’s downfall, Haftar switched sides and America rewarded him for it by presenting him with U.S. citizenship. Haftar will never honor a ceasefire nor will he ever allow himself to be bound to a sense of decency in any way, shape or form.  Gambling on peace never looked so challenging. If there is to be a lasting peace then it’s up to the U.S. and the EU to lead the way.

Certainly, Turkey has a pivotal role to play in this gamble for peace. Yet, as long as the international community kowtows to the likes of Haftar’s military allies, the gamble will turn back into a game of Russian roulette.  The powers that be need to be looking on the side of right instead of turning the other cheek where Haftar is concerned. The only way for Libya’s gamble on peace to pay off is with solid international support that includes the UN, Turkey, the U.S., the EU and relevant parties in the region. The bottom line has to be: you either support a free Libya or you don’t. Those who don’t will end up losers in the long run, those who do will reap the benefits and will have made the gamble on peace all the much more worthwhile.

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