Could Libya's Unravelling Spark a Wider War in the Mediterranean?

Published December 19th, 2019 - 10:26 GMT
A Turkish soldier patrols a southern Syrian border town Sept. 30, 2014. Turkey may send troops to Tripoli if requested to do so. (AFP Photo)
A Turkish soldier patrols a southern Syrian border town Sept. 30, 2014. Turkey may send troops to Tripoli if requested to do so. (AFP Photo)

Libya has been torn by almost a decade of civil war which may soon come to a final end. The wider Mediterranean, however, risks military escalation in the process. 

 

Since ancient Rome, Libya has been divided into three main areas: Cyrenaica in the East, Tripolitania in the North-West, and Fezzan in the South-West. After Libya erupted into a civil war following the 2011 revolution ousting Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the country was re-divided in its ancient areas with the Eastern government in Bayda, the Western Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the mostly autonomous and disputed Southern areas controlled by various tribes, mainly the Tuareg, Tebu and Awlad Suleiman.

Since ancient Rome, Libya has been divided into three main areas: Cyrenaica in the east, Tripolitania in the north-west, and Fezzan in the south-west.

The two governments in the East and West have been fighting for control over the country, and the Eastern government appears to be headed for victory. Under the military general Khalifa Haftar, the forces of the Libyan National Army – the only unified army in Libya – have been making significant gains in the south, effectively taking control over the country's regions by enabling agreements with local tribes.

“The move was welcomed by many people in the South because it gave them security,” a source who asked for anonymity over security reasons, based in the Southern city of Sebha, told Al-Bawaba.

Many Libyans have grown tired of living in a constant state of war, and Haftar’s forces, however tyrannical, appear to be giving a sense of security to its citizens. This sentiment is especially prevalent in the South of Libya, an area that has been severely affected by human, drug and arms trafficking since its borders with neighbouring African countries have been eroded. 

Many Libyans have grown tired of living in a constant state of war, and Haftar’s forces, however tyrannical, appear to be giving a sense of security to its citizens.

Haftar has also been making significant advance in the West, an area which has been loyal to anti-Haftar forces since the civil war started. Earlier this month, the general was able to attack the Western government, which hardly stands on its own two feet without paying various militias for their loyalty. The Tripoli government pays these militias with funds provided to them mostly by foreign powers, which include Italy, Qatar and Turkey.

The Eastern government led by Haftar's forces is also supported by foreign powers, mainly by France, Greece, and the counter-revolutionary regional powers of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Libya has effectively become fertile ground for various regional powers in the Mediterranean and beyond to assert their interests.

The GNA barely controls its own city of Tripoli and relies on various militias, which it pays from funds provided by the Italian government. It depends on support mainly from Italy, as well as Qatar and Turkey.

The proxy war in Libya has furthermore risks becoming further divided because Greece and Turkey, two historical enemies in the Mediterranean, had an intense diplomatic dispute, which could escalate into an outright confrontation. On November 28th, Turkey said it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Libya’s Tripoli government outlining their maritime borders that stretch across the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The memorandum marked a corridor of water between Turkey and Libya that violates what Greece sees as its maritime territory. Lucrative economic prospects of hydrocarbon resources in the area are at stake. Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Italy have delineated their zones for gas extraction with Greece. As a result, these countries might soon ally against Turkey’s advances.  

Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Italy had delineated their zones for gas extraction with Greece, and so all these powers might soon form a coalition against Turkey’s advances.  

As a response to Haftar’s closer prospects of winning Libya's civil war, Turkey approved military cooperation with the Tripoli government to protect its newly made agreement. Turkey has also threatened the prospect of sending troops to the GNA. Should this happen, Libya will once again fail to be re-united and its civil war will continue indefinetely.

“It is probable for Haftar to eventually break the GNA defenses, if he continues to enjoy the level of current foreign political and military support,” Jamal Adel, a journalist and researcher based in Libya told Al-Bawaba. However, if the Tripoli government starts receiving direct military aid from Turkey, Haftar’s victory can no longer be taken for granted. Should proxy powers in the Mediterranean continue to use Libya as a battlefield for their energy disputes, the country is unlikely to find peace any time soon. 


The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.


© 2000 - 2021 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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