Syria Now… Libya Next? Erdogan Plays Both Sides-By Steve Brown
As the dust settles in Syria subsequent to the US exit from the debacle that it so created in 2011, the festering sore that is Libya must once again come to the fore. Recall that Hillary Clinton and Mahmoud Jibril made the case for regime change in Libya and although the US seemingly abandoned oil-rich Libya after the Benghazi attacks, the US is still running clandestine operations in Libya from Tunisia.
The United States Central Intelligence Agency flies surveillance and attack drones from Sidi Ahmed air base to attack tribal leaders that it suspects of having links to al Qaeda. Likewise, Israel runs a covert surveillance operation and cyberwarfare unit from nearby Djerba island. Whether Djerba island station assists US operations in Libya is unclear; the main function of the Israeli Djerba black ops site is claimed to be cyberwarfare in North Africa.
Meanwhile, recent attempts to unravel the Libyan disaster engaged none of the parties most interested in pursuing active aggression there. US “efforts for Libyan peace” and diplomacy on the “margins” of the UN General Assembly in September included only the African Union, the Arab League, and European Union, besides Egypt and western Axis powers. In other words, the United Arab Emirates, representatives of Sarraj’s Government of National Accord, Misrata leaders, and Haftar’s Libyan National Army were not invited to the UN party.
Libyan GNA leader Sarraj addressed the UN in September saying, “We ask the United States, if it believes in a political solution, to stop these countries from providing the money, the equipment and the weapons that has enabled him [Haftar] to continue this.” But the real trouble is Libyan oil.
The warring factions in Libya are funded by NOC, the National Oil Company of Libya. The Libyan National Oil Company is the only designated independent oil company in Libya, providing profits to its oil suppliers – east or west. And note the division. East Libyan oil fields are offshore, controlled by Haftar and the LNA, while onshore western fields are controlled by Sarraj and a separate group, the Misrata rebels.
But the NOC is not the only oil company operating in Libya, the United Arab Emirates has been illegally stealing and selling oil in the east on behalf of Haftar and its own operations for some time. In aid of receiving that oil, the United Arab Emirates supplies weaponry, fighter planes, and even mercenary pilots to General Haftar’s militia.
Now enter Turkey, which has been purchasing low cost oil in western Libya from Misrata rebels since the US cutoff its Iranian oil supplies, where Iran was formerly a major supplier. Turkey has enforced its interest in Libyan oil since Secretary Mnuchin’s oil embargo versus Iran took effect, and Turkey has supplied arms and weaponry to Misrata in the west, to keep their oil flowing.
Turkey’s interest in Misrata oil and alliance with Islamic rebels to that end is a complication for Russia, which has good relations with Turkey, but opposes the resurgence of the Islamic State group in Libya and Syria, when Turkey as a matter of convenience has supported the “Libyan Army” (of GNA) and Misrata rebels which contain radical jihadi elements. (Sarraj says those ISIS elements have been eliminated from the Libyan Army, however the Russian leadership seems wary.)
Indeed, Russia’s policy in Libya is somewhat opaque with regard to its support for warring factions. Russia evidently supports Saif al Islam with the primary intent to unite disparate Libyan tribes, and to suppress ISIS. Russia supports that goal by alleged use of the Wagner Group – which officialdom denies – where inevitably clashes have occurred with the GNA.
Russia, Turkey, Syria, and Iran have cooperated subsequent to the US withdrawal from Syria… but Syria is not all about oil, while Libya is. Thus once again we must question whether Mr Erdogan is playing a double agent game. In the article Erdogan: Bluffer or Potentate? we examined Mr Erdogan’s dual game in Syria, which has apparently worked out well for now, except for the YPG and PKK terrorists.
Now in Libya, where oil riches are at stake – and coming off his victory in Syria – it makes sense for Mr Erdogan to press the issue and attempt to turn the tide versus Haftar and his backers, including the United Arab Emirates. Such a move may directly incite Russian interests however, if the Russian leadership considers Turkey to be supporting GNA / Misrata rebels which are (in part) ISIS fighters.
In other words, after Turkey’s success in Syria — securing Turkey’s southern border in a matter of days whereas the United States protected YPG terrorists there for many years — the next logical extension is for Turkey to secure its oil and gas from Misrata since the US ended Turkey’s freedom to import Iranian oil. That such a move by Turkey may further destabilize Libya (and perhaps Northern Africa) will force Turkey into a delicate balancing act, again playing off Russia versus the United States and vice versa, to maintain regional leverage.
Since Mr Erdogan apparently achieved the nearly impossible in Syria, he will likely feel emboldened now. After all, he survived a US coup attempt and embarrassed Saudi Arabia to an extent where the Crown Prince of Terror’s influence has all but been blunted. That’s not meant to portray Mr Erdogan as a noble hero, only as a canny, cunning, and effective operator.
And there are pitfalls. US politicians have drafted draconian new sanctions versus Turkey, and the Warfare State’s megaphone in Washington DC is braying for blood… anyone’s blood. Furthermore, attempting to play both sides seldom works out well, and defying a weakened Deep State in Washington is quite different than defying the Russian leadership. And the conflict in Libya is quite different than that in Syria.
So, will Libya be next to somehow recover from the US State-imposed debacle of 2011 that led to the death and displacement of many thousands of its people, plus its demise as a functioning independent sovereign state? For that we can only hope… but to rely on Mr Erdogan’s luck there, and in a very different conflict, is questionable.
The true question is how long Mr Erdogan can play all sides.