Turkish support to GNA stirs up tensions in Libya
On 5 July, Government of National Accord (GNA) Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj visited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul in an effort to secure military and financial support for the GNA. Sarraj reportedly requested the provision of arms, financial backing, and several new drones from Turkey. Additionally, Sarraj reportedly requested that Turkish forces be sent to secure Tripoli, though this could not be verified. This follows reports on 4 July that Turkey was sending the GNA 8 Bayraktar TB-2 drones and may explain why on 5 July, the Kiev SkyAviaTrans’ Ilyushin Il76 strategic heavy lifter flew for 4 continuous days between Ankara and Tripoli. Other reports suggest that deliveries of drones were also made to Misrata Airforce Academy and Misrata port. The GNA-aligned coalition is open about its Turkish backing, with various militias publishing images and videos of Turkish-supplied military vehicles in Tripoli. This prompted the Libyan National Army (LNA) to issue a ban on all Turkish activity and personnel in Libya, following their defeat at Ghariyan.
Despite claims by the LNA that Turkey’s involvement is based upon the ideological support of Islamists, Ankara’s involvement in Libya likely stems from broader geopolitical and economic concerns. Turkey is pushing to become the main natural gas hub for Europe and is competing with Cyprus and Greece for naval sovereignty over waters in the eastern Mediterranean. Greece has claimed the rights to a naval zone of nearly 40 thousand square kilometers north of Libya, that is not only rich in natural gas reserves, but also provides an avenue to exert influence over the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey is aiming to obstruct this dominance by making a deal with GNA which would see Turkey and Libya sharing and extending their naval zones. Should the GNA be removed, such an arrangement would no longer be available to Ankara and it would likely find itself boxed into a small area of the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey is likely to increase it material, financial and strategic support to the GNA and the coalition of GNA-aligned militias in the short-medium term in order to protect its broader strategic interests in the region. It remains unclear whether Turkey would engage in direct military action in Libya in order to protect its interests.