11.03.2024 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Turkish Plans in Libya Hang in the Balance…

Turkish Plans in Libya Hang in the Balance

Libya’s favorable geographical location (primarily access to the Mediterranean Sea) and rich oil and gas resources attract many key global and regional players, and Türkiye is no exception. Ankara is known to show special attention to Tripoli in the context of strengthening its regional position and gaining access to Libya’s oil and gas resources.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan chose the president’s side in the civil conflict between the UN-recognized President Fayez al-Sarraj, who heads the Government of National Unity (GNU), and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the national army, who is supported by the unicameral parliament, the House of Representatives. The fact is that both Mr. Sarraj and Mr. Erdoğan are supporters of the well-known and radical Muslim Brotherhood movement (banned in Russia as a terrorist organization). Following President Erdoğan’s instructions, on January 2, 2020, the Turkish Parliament adopted a resolution on sending Turkish troops to Libya, and shortly afterwards, on January 5, the head of state gave the command to deploy these troops. This decision was perceived negatively by the international community.

For example, Israel, Greece and Cyprus condemned the introduction of Turkish troops into Libya, accusing Erdoğan of violating the UN embargo on military cooperation with Libya (in particular, arms supplies). These three countries’ position is primarily related to the topic of new oil and gas fields in the Mediterranean (in particular, discovered in the border areas with Cyprus and Greece). However, France, the UAE, Egypt, Syria and Chad, which support Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in the Libyan conflict, reacted no less negatively to Türkiye’s actions.

The problem is that President Fayez al-Sarraj and the head of his interim government, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, control only the capital Tripoli and the areas surrounding the city, while the rest of Libya (90%) remains in the hands of Haftar. In particular, these are the territories where military bases and facilities related to oil production, refining and transportation, including by sea, are located.

During the intra-Libyan conflict, President Sarraj’s supporters have discredited themselves in the eyes of the international community due to the involvement of radical Islamist groups (including militants close to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State, both organizations banned in Russia) in their ranks.

Libya, being a country with one of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves, is becoming an object of geopolitical and geo-economic aspirations of a number of regional and global players (including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Türkiye, the EU and the US). At the same time, the weak positions of the parties to the internal Libyan conflict (Sarraj and Haftar) create favorable conditions for major external players to gain a foothold in the Libyan oil and gas market.

Based on national interests, Türkiye signed a memorandum of maritime border demarcation and military cooperation with the government of Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh on November 27, 2019, and two new Turkish-Libyan memoranda of understanding in the oil and gas sector were signed on October 3, 2022 (one of which included joint exploration). With these agreements, Ankara showed its intention to gain a long-term foothold in Libya’s oil and gas shelf in the Mediterranean Sea.

Russia officially maintains a position of diplomatic non-interference in the Libyan internal conflict. However, it is quite obvious that Moscow is more likely to side with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who advocates stabilization of the situation in Libya, than with President Fayez al-Sarraj and his interim government of national accord, since the latter is backed by radical Islamist groups (moreover, fighting against the Russian Federation’s Allied Forces in Syria).

Moscow, realizing the complexity of the character of its Turkish partner, nevertheless used the Astana platform for negotiations with Ankara on the Libyan issue. Still, while the Turks do not deny negotiations, no special agreement is expected. Russia’s goal comes down to helping restore the fragile system of regional security in the Middle East (naturally, with strengthening its positions in the region), where the crisis persists as a negative consequence of the “Arab Spring” initiated by the US.

The well-known aggravation of Turkish-Israeli relations in the light of the military conflict in the Gaza Strip, in a certain sense, also contributes to the radicalization of the approaches of Tel Aviv and Jews worldwide to the topic of the Turkish presence in the Libyan oil and gas game.

As a result, the Tripoli Court of Appeal in February 2024 annulled the Libyan-Turkish memorandum of understanding in the oil and gas industry dated October 3, 2022. In this regard, lawyer Saraya al-Tuweibi, participating in the consideration of the case, in an interview with Al Marsad noted this: “(the Court) ruled the resolution to terminate the memorandum of understanding and cooperation in the hydrocarbon sector concluded between the Turkish government and the head of the interim government of Libya, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh.”

As a legal basis for such a decision, the lawyer emphasized that the interim GNU, headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, was initially created under certain conditions. In particular, the GNU is deprived of the right to sign any agreements involving the use of strategic resources of the state. Thus, on January 10, 2023, the Tripoli court suspended the implementation of the Libyan-Turkish agreement on oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean Sea.

In fact, today a dual power has been established in Libya: a government in the east of the country in Tobruk, approved by parliament, and the interim GNU led by Dbeibeh in Tripoli. Meanwhile, on June 22, 2022, the transition period established by the UN following the Geneva negotiations expired; general elections were to be held in Libya and a new president and parliament would emerge. However, at the end of 2021, elections in Libya were canceled due to the lack of an appropriate constitutional framework and continued security problems throughout the country.

Ankara, in its harsh criticism of Tel Aviv, accuses Israel of instigating a major regional war. However, in the situation with Libya, Türkiye was somewhat late in terms of participation in the development of new rich oil and gas fields in the Mediterranean basin, largely due to its own aggressive policy and exorbitant ambitions of imperial revanchism. Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel are unlikely to allow Türkiye to establish control over geological exploration, production, processing and transit of hydrocarbon resources in the area of their own responsibility and legal agreements. At the same time, the United States and the EU will not become Türkiye’s allies in this matter, and there is no point in Russia losing its authority and losing ground to the Turks in Libya.

In other words, the Tripoli Court of Appeal, with its above-mentioned decision, itself became but a legal harbinger of possible complications in political relations with Türkiye. Accordingly, Ankara’s large-scale economic and geopolitical plans in the “Libyan dossier” may be frozen for an unknown time. A different approach threatens a hot phase of showdown, which will inevitably affect the internal political and economic situation in Türkiye and, possibly, will divert the attention of the world community from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.


Alexander SVARANTS – Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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