The Tunisian presidency has dispelled rumors it is considering forming an alliance with Turkey with the aim of backing the Government of National Accord (GNA), which currently controls the Libyan capital ofTripoli. In a statement on December 26, the presidency said Tunisia would not be part of any alliances in Libya.
“Tunisia will continue to adopt a neutral stance as far as the situation in Libya is concerned,” the Tunisian presidency said. “It deals with all parties to the Libyan conflict on an equal footing.”
Putting Tunisia’s Position On Libya In Context
The statement of the Tunisian presidency came only a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid an unannounced visit to Tunisia and held talks with Tunisian President Kais Saied. Erdogan was in Tunisia with one goal in mind: winning over the North African state in order to form a coalition to assist the GNA, whose stronghold is now the target of an offensive by the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whose forces currently control most of Libya.
The LNA says it wants to purge the Libyan capital of the Islamist militias aiding the GNA and controlling the capital with it. Turkey abets the same militias and sends arms and military equipment to them in its bid to carve a niche for itself in a country that is now in turmoil, but has vast natural resources, including copious amounts of oil.
Why Does Turkey Care About Libya?
Turkey has billions of dollars in investments in Libya and Turkish companies are currently operating in many key sectors of the Libyan economy. The discovery of huge natural gas reserves off the coasts of most Eastern Mediterranean countries, with the only exception so far being Turkey, is also causing Erdogan’s mouth to water.
The GNA is mainly made up of affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood, by far the strongest Islamist organization in the Arab world and the same movement with which Erdogan is affiliated. In late November, Turkey signed a maritime boundary delimitation deal with the GNA as well as another agreement centered on security cooperation. This last agreement allows Turkey to send troops to Libya at the request of the GNA.
Libya’s GNA To Turkey: We Need Help, Send Soldiers
The GNA made the request for Turkey to deploy troops on December 26. On the same day, Erdogan said he would ask the Turkish parliament to authorize sending Turkish troops to Libya when it reconvenes in early January. Nonetheless, if the Turkish parliament approves Erdogan’s request, Turkey will face difficulty sending the troops to Libya because the LNA controls almost all of Libya’s airspace and coastal areas. By sending troops, Turkey will also defy a United Nations arms embargo pertaining to the restive North African state.
Tunisians Are Suspicious Of Turkey’s Motives In Libya
The fear among Tunisians is that Erdogan wants to relocate Islamist extremists from Syria to Libya through Tunisia. “Erdogan wants to embroil Tunisia in the Libyan conflict, but all Tunisians reject this,” said Tunisian politician Leila Hammami.
Tunisia’s political parties and professional unions also rose up against Erdogan’s visit to their country as well as his desire to make Tunisia party to the Libyan conflict. Turkey sponsors Tahrir al-Sham, a merger of several jihadist groups that currently controls most of the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib, which is under heavy assault by the Syrian army.
Turkey’s Tolerance For Jihadism
For the past eight years, Turkey has turned a blind eye to the entry of jihadists from all parts of the world—including from Europe and Asia—to Syria, through its joint border with the war-torn state. However, analysts say there is little Istanbul can offer the GNA, even if it finds a way to send thousands of battle-hardened jihadists into Libya. They are simply outgunned and outmaneuvered, even with Turkish-backed fighters helping out.
“This is particularly true with the LNA advancing rapidly towards Tripoli and controlling one district inside the Libyan capital after another,” said Egyptian political analyst, Ashraf al-Ashri. “The LNA can turn everything upside down in a matter of a few days.”