Rage, resentment and multiple resignations among high-ranking Syrian rebel leaders and commanders have come fast at the heels of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s unilateral decision to dispatch thousands of proxy Syrian fighters – with the possibility of sending additional Turkish military forces – to Libya. Erdogan is sending the fighters there in support of his ally in Tripoli, prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj, who heads the internationally recognized Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). A major offensive has been gaining momentum in recent weeks launched by forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar‘s Libyan National Army, who is quickly advancing to overtake the capital Tripoli and topple Sarraj and his government whom they perceive as a gang of pro-Turkish and pro-US traitors. Al-Sarraj himself is said to be of Turkish origin and his birth name was Fayez Fawzi Mohammad Agha from the city of Manisa, Turkey. His grandfather is also reported to have served as an officer in the Ottoman army, although such claims have not been independently verified.
Erdogan’s Plan Splits Opposition, Leads To Collective Resignations
The Turkish leader’s Libya intervention effort has rapidly split the so-called military wing of Syrian opposition factions, including some of the main Ankara-backed militias in Syria. Collective high-level resignations followed Erdogan’s unilateral move and selective dispatching of hundreds of pro-Turkish Syrian National Army (SNA) fighters to Libya without any consultation with their military commanders outraged some Syrian factions. A statement issued earlier this week by the so-called Interim Government’s Ministry of Defense and circulated widely over social media carried the resignation of all four SNA top commanders as well as those of three main hard-line Syrian rebel groups.
The statement reads: “We, the following names, hereby declare our resignation from the Syrian National Army in opposition to the dispatching of fighting groups to Libya without our consent:
1-General Salim Idriss, SNA’s Chief of Staff and Defence Minister in the Interim Government.
2-Brigadier Adnan Al Ahmad, SNA’s Deputy Chief of Staff.
3-Colonel Fadl Al Hajji, Commander of National Liberation Front.
4-Colonel Afif Suleiman, Idlib Army Chief.”
The resignation statement also included Jaber Ali Basha, Commander of ‘Sham Liberation Front’, Abu Eissa Al Sheikh, Commander of ‘Sham Hawks’ and Abu Saleh Tahhan, Commander of ‘Army of the Free’ rebel militia groups.
Opposition In Turkey, Outrage In The Region And Beyond
Erdogan’s latest controversial move has sparked fierce both regional as well as international condemnation especially by Egypt, Iraq, Algeria, Syria, Tunisia—despite Erdogan’s visit to Tunisia five days ago to discuss his Libya intervention plan with his newly elected Tunisian counterpart Kais Saied, amid strong popular resentment towards Erdogan’s visit and policies—as well as by leaders of some EU nations such as France and Greece. Yet, Erdogan seems unwavering in his Libya intervention plan which is already underway. Recently published reports and released footage both confirm the arrival of hundreds of Syrian and foreign pro-Turkish fighters in Libya, including some senior Turkmen militia leaders as an ‘avant guard force’ preparing for the imminent dispatch of some 8,000 fighters promised by Erdogan to his ally Al Sarraj.
There is also strong opposition to Erdogan’s Libya adventure within Turkey itself. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the second most powerful political force in the country and main opposition party in Turkey, the Republican People’s Party (GHP), has publicly denounced Erdogan’s plan for Libya, reiterated his party’s outright rejection and opposition to sending any Turkish servicemen or forces to Libya. GHP is a Kemalist ‘secular’ party established in 1923 by Kemal Mustafa Ataturk, founder of the Turkish republic, first leader of the party till his death in 1938. GHP was the only political party in Turkey until 1946.
From The Syrian Fire Into The Libyan Frying Pan
Earlier this month, Erdogan took another controversial and destabilizing step when he signed a trade and security deal with al-Sarraj during a visit to Tripoli, that gives Turkey unprecedented gas and oil exploration privileges and production rights in the Mediterranean. The deal radically which overhauls historic maritime lines and exploration rights in favor of Turkey at the expense of other nations, mainly Greece and Cyprus, has met with strong condemnation and even threat of military action against any Turkish vessels or rigs in the Mediterranean, particularly by Egypt.
Erdogan has used his AK Party majority in the parliament to pass and adopt the deal with Libya orchestrated by Erdogan and al-Sarraj who, as agreed, later invited Turkey to provide military support and protection to GNA against Haftar, who has the full political and military backing of Erdogan’s arch enemy, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. In a speech in Ankara on Thursday, Erdogan said on January 7, he will present a bill to the Turkish Parliament authorizing deployment.
“Since there is an invitation right now, we will accept it,” Erdogan told members of his AK Party. “We will present the motion to send troops to Libya as soon as Parliament resumes. God willing, we will pass it in Parliament on January 8-9 and thus respond to an invitation” from the Tripoli-based GNA, Erdogan maintained.
Many observers and experts predict that Erdogan’s Libya intervention carries a good deal of risk and danger, both politically and militarily. While optimists in Syria and the region hope that, by transferring terrorists and jihadists from the Levant to Libya – be it by Turkish military planes, cattle freight ships or even by swimming to Tripoli—could at long last bring about an end to the Idlib dilemma, pessimists ,including many anti-government rebel groups, feel that Erdogan is hopelessly trying to revive an Islamist Neo-Ottoman empire that stretches from the Levant to Africa and the Far East. However, they warn that, by wearing shoes far too big for his real size, Erdogan might well be writing his own epitaph, as well as spelling his AK Party’s demise, through a final precarious war dance and rope walking from Syria’s fire into Libya’s frying pan.