A motion sanctioning the deployment of armed forces to Libya easily passed the Turkish Parliament on Thursday, but the specter of Turkish forces entering the Libyan civil war is triggering alarm and condemnation.
Passing with a 325-184 vote, the motion gives Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a one-year mandate to send armed forces in support of Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord.
The GNA is currently besieged by Libyan General Khalif Haftar’s military forces, who now control eastern Libya.
Turkish forces becoming involved in the Libya civil war is causing international concern. Following Parliament’s vote, U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Erdogan by telephone.
“President Trump pointed out that foreign interference is complicating the situation in Libya,” said Hogan Gidley, principal White House deputy press secretary.
“Egypt condemns in the strongest terms this step that violates United Nations resolutions,” said an Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement. “The Arab Republic of Egypt also warns of repercussions of any Turkish military intervention in Libya and confirms that this intervention will negatively affect stability in the Mediterranean Sea region.”
Cairo is backing Haftar’s military forces, and previously warned it was ready to deploy its own forces if Ankara went ahead with sending soldiers.
‘Not intervening in Libya’
Ankara dismissed concerns over any Libyan military deployment.
“Turkey’s agreement with the Libyan government is the best guarantee for security and stability in the Mediterranean. We will, of course, protect our rights and interests in the Mediterranean,” tweeted Fahrettin Altun, Turkey’s director of communications.
“Some countries are trying to put their narrow interests above international peace and security in the Mediterranean. Any agreement struck with a group other than the legitimate government in Tripoli will drag the country further into chaos,” Altun added.
During debate over the motion, the Turkish government tried to allay international and domestic concerns.
“We’re not intervening in Libya. We are just meeting a request for help from the internationally recognized government there,” Emrullah Isler, Erdogan’s envoy to the fractured nation, told parliamentary deputies ahead of Thursday’s vote.
All of the parliamentary opposition parties opposed the motion.
“This motion does not speak of ‘national security,’ it speaks only of ‘national interest,’ ” Unal Cevikoz of the main opposition CHP Party said during the feisty debate. “It is a disastrous call by the presidential palace to send our citizens to the deserts of Libya.”
Opposition deputies also raised concerns over the broad nature of the motion with little information on the type of Libyan military deployment.
Ahead of the vote, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar suggested any military action would be confined to training and providing munitions and weapons. Last year, Ankara sent several armed drones in support of the GNA.
But while Haftar’s forces, backed by Russian mercenaries, are tightening their control around Tripoli, reports by local Turkish media suggest the GNA may be looking to Ankara to deploy a force of as many as 2,000 combat soldiers.
According to observers, Erdogan expedited passage of the motion because of the imminent threat faced by the GNA. Erdogan argues that the GNA’s survival is key to Turkey’s strategic interests.
Last November, he signed two agreements with the Libyan government. One was a security agreement in which Ankara pledged military support. The second gave Turkey control of a large swath of the eastern Mediterranean between the two countries.
The region is the center of an increasingly bitter rivalry among regional countries for the search of hydrocarbons. Ankara is alarmed at growing cooperation involving rivals Greece, Israel, Egypt and the Greek Cypriots in the search for and exploitation of the region’s energy.
“No plan in the region that excludes Turkey has any chance of success,” Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said Wednesday.
On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed an agreement in Athens committing his country, Greece and the Greek Cypriot government to building a multibillion-dollar gas pipeline.
The pipeline seeks to exclude Turkey from lucrative transit fees in distributing vast gas reserves discovered off the Israeli coast to Europe. But the route of the planned pipeline passes through the Mediterranean Sea under Turkish control in its agreement with the GNA.
“These agreements with the GNA are of so much strategic importance for Turkey,” said energy expert and former Turkish Ambassador Mithat Rende. “The strategy of Turkey is to protect its legitimate rights in the eastern Mediterranean. The strategy is to have an equitable solution to the matter, because we have overlapping claims. Turkey made it clear after signing these agreements. Turkey is ready to speak with Greece and other authorities.”
Turkey’s strategy of coercing its regional rivals to negotiate is widely seen as increasingly dependent on the survival of the GNA. However, Ankara may yet hold off deploying soldiers to Libya.
“Passing the motion in Parliament has a strong political message,” Oktay said. “If they [Haftar’s forces] stop their attacks or withdraw, we may see this as appropriate. But if they keep continuing their attacks, the motion gives us a one-year mandate, so we may deploy our soldiers whenever necessary.”
Given that Libya is nearly 2,000 kilometers from Turkey, analysts warn any major military deployment into a combat zone carries considerable risk.