Egypt’s message to Turkey: We are keen on peace in Libya but ready for war

Signs that Russia and Turkey are following to a large extent the same pattern of their joint arrangements in northern Syria.
Tuesday 09/06/2020
A 2019 file photo of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (L) talking to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. (AFP)
A 2019 file photo of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (L) talking to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. (AFP)

CAIRO –Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s announcement of the Cairo initiative to resolve the Libyan crisis, this past Saturday, was soon followed by a massive deployment of troops on the Egyptian-Libyan border.

This contained a message for Turkey, which is up to now observing total silence about the Egyptian initiative. In its message, Cairo basically said that Egypt is ready to work for peace in Libya but is also ready for the option of war should Turkey and its Islamist proxies choose obstinacy.

An Egyptian political source described the military build-up on the border with Libya as normal in light of the continued readiness of the Egyptian armed forces and the dangerous developments taking place in Libya.

The source told The Arab Weekly that the goal of this build-up is to block all crossings along the border and prevent possible infiltrations by terrorist elements into Egyptian territory.

Military experts believe that the Libyan National Army (LNA) is not currently in as much need of ground military support, especially now that a large number of able young men from the tribes of eastern Libya have joined the battlefronts in central Libya on the side of the LNA, as it is in need of fighter jets to stop the advance of the militias fighting for the so-called Government of National Accord (GNA) on Sirte, Jafra military base and oil terminals.

There are still controversial reports circulating about the identity of the aircraft that carried out Saturday’s air strikes which frustrated the advance of the Misrata militias and of the Syrian mercenaries towards Sirte, inflicting heavy losses in equipment and lives on the marching troops.

While some say the fighter planes used were of the same type than the military jets which the United States accused Russia of sending to Libya, a charge denied by the LNA, others did not exclude the hypothesis that the said planes took off from a military base in Egypt.

Egypt maintains a military base, the Mohamed Naguib Base, close to its western border with Libya. Constructed only three years ago, it is a modern base in a network of logistical support bases that are part of the Egyptian defence system. It was specifically built there in anticipation of an military emergency in Libya that Egypt might have to deal with.

In any case, Saturday’s airstrikes made it clear to the GNA and its Turkish ally that the city of Sirte, about 500 kilometres from Tripoli, is a red line not to be crossed. Egypt and Russia are not ready to let the GNA camp reach the eastern region of Libya, because such an action would go against the ceasefire proposed by Egypt and which took effect Monday.

Cairo realises that its initiative has confused the Ankara-Tripoli alliance. This alliance holds together only because of the continuation of war in Libya. But as calls for a return to the course of political settlement intensified, cracks within the political forces and regional forces inside the alliance have began to surface.

Cairo has not expected its initiative to be this easily welcomed by many parties. In fact, it had prepared for the scenario of its initiative being rejected by the GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the GNA’s militias and allies. But the Egyptian proposal seems to have garnered the support of important international players, who urged all Libyans to take it seriously and warned them against jumping on the rash option of continuing the war.

Cairo believes that the opportunism of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will make him persist in his reckless endeavour by continuing to favour and support the military option.

By contrast, the LNA commander, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, already announced his adherence to the cease-fire, which implies that Erdogan might end up exiting the Libyan game empty-handed, with no share of the Libyan cake, the latter being the main motivation for his involvement in the current war.

Ankara is aware that the major world powers will not look favourably at its breach of the rules of world geopolitics. So if its intervention in Libya was tacitly blessed by some Western powers in order to achieve specific goals, its going all out militarily and bringing in mercenaries did not sit well with other major powers, especially Russia.

On Monday, there emerged signs of a Russian-Turkish coordination to work out a new map of influence sharing in Libya. The ministers of foreign affairs of both countries agreed on the need to create the right conditions for a peace process in Libya, and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a phone conversation with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

President Sisi presented Egypt’s consistent strategic stance towards the Libyan crisis as embodied by the Cairo Declaration initiative and which was in accordance with the various international efforts as well. For his part, Putin praised the Egyptian initiative.

The statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry, which quoted both ministers, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, gave the impression that the two countries are following to a large extent the same pattern of their joint arrangements in northern Syria.

Right from the beginning of the current developments in Libya, observers have been unanimous to say that the Russians and the Turks will be the ones deciding on “any negotiations regarding arrangements in Libya.”