A fledgling détente between the eastern Libya government and Syria promises to choke Turkish ambitions in Libya and Syria and sabotage plans by Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan to turn Libya into the new international terrorism hotspot.
A Libyan delegation made up of the foreign minister of the eastern Libya government Abdel Hadi al-Hawaij and Deputy Prime Minister Abdel Rahman Al-Ahirish recently visited the Syrian capital of Damascus on March 1. The members of the Libyan delegation met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.
“We Have Hopes That We Can Reopen the Syrian Embassy in Tripoli Soon”
Libya has not had diplomatic representation in Syria since 2012. The Libyan embassy in Damascus has been closed since then. The Libyan delegation signed a memorandum of understanding with the Syrian government, in the light of which the Libyan embassy in Damascus will be reopened.
Syria will also open a diplomatic representation office in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, the seat of the Abdullah al-Thini-led interim government of eastern Libya. Muallem said the office would function as a temporary political and diplomatic representation body.
“We have hopes that we can reopen the Syrian embassy in Tripoli soon,” the Syrian foreign minister said.
Return to Sender
The memorandum of understanding signed by the two sides also includes security cooperation, especially on the exchange of information on terrorists and terrorist groups operating in the two countries. In the light of the same document, the eastern Libya government will send Syrian hirelings transferred to Libya by Turkey and arrested in the past months by the Libyan National Army (LNA) back to Syria.
The LNA — now pushing into Tripoli — is part of a campaign backed by some regional powers for bringing the Libyan capital under the control of the Libyan military establishment. They have succeeded in killing dozens of Turkey-sent Syrian mercenaries and arresting numerous others.
Erdogan’s Dashed Dreams
Turkey has been sending hundreds of Syrian mercenaries to Libya to prop up the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). The dispatch of the Syrian hirelings comes in the light of a security cooperation memorandum of understanding the two sides signed in late November last year.
So far, Turkey has sent close to 2,400 Syrian fighters to Libya after giving them training in Turkish camps, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Deep under Turkish support to the GNA are vested Turkish economic and political interests in the eastern Mediterranean, including in becoming part of the natural gas wealth unfolding in the region.
Apart from the security cooperation memo, Turkey also signed a maritime delimitation memo with the GNA. The memo — according to Erdogan —allows his country to explore natural gas off Libya’s Mediterranean coast and prevent other eastern Mediterranean countries from extending natural gas pipelines in the region.
Deep Into Syrian Waters
Turkish interference in Libya compounds interference in Syria, where Ankara throws its full weight behind jihadists occupying most of the northern Syrian province of Idlib. The Syrian army has succeeded in recapturing some parts of the city, including most recently the key town of Saraqeb, and driving the Turkey-backed jihadists out. However, Turkish military interference is slowing down the Syrian drive and opening the door for confrontations between the two sides.
This is why the Syrians and the Libyans view Turkey as a common enemy. Muallem said Libya and Syria face the same challenges.
“These challenges make it necessary for our two countries to join hands,” the Syrian foreign minister said after signing the memorandum of understanding with the Libyan delegation.
These challenges, he added, include the ongoing Turkish aggression in both Syria and Libya.
Tightening the Noose Around Turkey
The coming together of the eastern Libya government and Syria will contribute to stifling Turkish interference in Libya and Syria, according to analysts. In addition, the sharing of intelligence between the two sides will help them better fight terrorists and terrorist groups operating in the two countries.
“This coming together bolsters intelligence and security coordination between the two sides,” said Syrian military expert, Ali Maqsoud. “It also helps strangle Turkish ambitions in the two countries.”