Erdogan's statements add to wariness about Turkish designs in Libya

"We will not hesitate to teach a deserved lesson to the putschist Haftar if he continues his attacks on the country's legitimate administration and our brothers in Libya," Erdogan said.
Wednesday 15/01/2020
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) receives Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) ahead of the Russian-Turkish brokered ceasefire talks in Moscow, Russia, January 13, 2020. (DPA)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) receives Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) ahead of the Russian-Turkish brokered ceasefire talks in Moscow, Russia, January 13, 2020. (DPA)

TUNIS - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's bellicose rhetoric after the failure of the Moscow talks to reach an agreement on a ceasefire in Libya added to the resurgence of tensions and further polarisation between the Libyan National Army and the internationally recognised Government of National Accord.

"We will not hesitate to teach a deserved lesson to the putschist Haftar if he continues his attacks on the country's legitimate administration and our brothers in Libya," Erdogan said at a Justice and Development Party meeting January 14 in Ankara.

Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar walked out of the Moscow's talks January 13 without signing a ceasefire accord.

The pro-LNA camp said Haftar wanted to show he is beholden only to fellow Libyans and will not compromise on his objective to free Libya from Islamist militants despite the intervention of their regional backers.

"Haftar balked at signing the deal in Moscow; either he has decided to do so whatever the price or he got the nod from allies to skirt the deal in return for their support," said Libyan political scientist Emad Badi.

The failure cast doubts on the shaky truce that went into effect January 12 and the prospects of the Berlin conference on Libya scheduled for January 19.

Analysts said Haftar is adamant on the LNA not retreating from the positions it gained since it began an offensive against militias aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA).

"What has prevented Field-Marshal Haftar from signing the deal was the impossible demands made by the rival side in Tripoli. Based on these demands, the Islamist militias would continue to hijack the state bodies and keep them under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood," said Libyan security analyst Abdelaziz Agniya.

The ceasefire was proposed by Russia and Turkey. It was quickly accepted by the GNA, whose forces suffered a defeat in the key town of Sirte January 6. Haftar initially rejected the ceasefire, saying his forces would “continue their war against the terrorist groups." However, he said January 11 that the LNA would abide by the truce.

Libyan parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh said January 14: "We accepted the ceasefire out of respect for the Russian President Vladimir Putin."

The LNA forces intensified their campaign in December after Turkey said it would send troops and military equipment, as well as mercenaries and jihadists from Syria, to shore up the GNA.

For observers close to the LNA, acceptance of withdrawal from positions after its gains in Tripoli would have dealt a major blow to the credibility of the LNA and Haftar and the trust by Libyan tribes and families who backed them in the offensive.

Statements by Erdogan claiming a mandate to protect Libyans of Turkish ancestry further fuelled hostility to him and the GNA camp. Erdogan said January 14: "It is our duty to protect our kin in Libya," adding Turkey had “deep historical and social ties with Libya."

Haftar's supporters said they back the field-marshal in opposing "the threat of Ottoman colonisation" of Libya.

“What Turkish legacy in Libya is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talking about?” asked Saleh, accusing the Turkish president of trying to revive the "legacy of Ottoman oppression in Libya."

Saleh called for an Arab role to end Turkish interference in Libyan affairs. In a speech before the Egyptian parliament January 14, Saleh indicated that he might invite the Egyptian Army to intervene against the Islamist militias aligned with the GNA and mercenaries sent by Turkey.

"Whatever the pressures, Libya will never be for sale. Libya will be only for the Libyans. Libya leads and will never be led by foreigners," he said.

Analysts said the January 12 truce could devolve into full-fledged war involving Turkey and Arab regional rivals if the Berlin conference fails to end Turkish intervention and draw warning sides to a political solution.

"The military option is still open and all the hopes are pinned on a solution out of the Berlin conference," said Agniya.