Why Peace in Libya Depends on Whether the GNA Invades Sirte

Al Jazeera reports that Aguila Saleh, the Speaker of Libya’s eastern-based parliament, has urged Egypt to intervene militarily if the Government of National Accord (GNA) and its allies attack the strategic city of Sirte.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi warned over the weekend that any invasion of Sirte or Jufra would result in the GNA “crossing a red line.”

In a further warning to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, el-Sisi ordered the Egyptian army to be prepared to carry out missions inside or outside of the nation to defend its national security amid tensions over Turkey’s intervention in Libya.

The GNA Believes Egypt Has Declared War

The GNA denounced Cairo’s threat of military intervention in Libya as “a declaration of war.”

Sirte is strategically important to the GNA because it would provide them with access to Libya’s vital oil fields which remain under the control of the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar. The city has been occupied by them since January.

Since the start of June, increased Turkish support has allowed pro-GNA forces to seize control of northwest Libya, which dealt a significant blow to Haftar’s plan to attack Tripoli. The GNA assault has now halted outside the coastal city of Sirte.

Sirte is a Strategically Key Libyan City

There are other reasons why Sirte is of strategic importance to both the GNA and the LNA. It is a gateway to dominate the ports of Sidra, Ras Lanuf, Marsa al-Brega and Zuwetina, where three gas conduits and 11 oil pipelines reach the Mediterranean coast.

Although Haftar is losing the Libyan civil war, controlling this coastal city provides him with many advantages over the GNA. Sirte is the western gateway toward a 350 kilometer coastal stretch all the way to Benghazi, abounding in pipelines, refineries, terminals and storage facilities. It is also home to 60 percent of Libya’s hydrocarbon riches.

Sirte matters to both Turkey (which supports the GNA) and Russia (which sponsors the LNA). Both Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin have failed to collaborate on a breakthrough to achieve lasting peace in Libya, but they also have military aspirations to establish bases in the war-torn country.

Fehim Tastekin of Al-Monitor argues that Ankara is eyeing al-Watiya and a naval base in Misrata.

Russia wants to establish a military presence in the Mediterranean after acquiring bases in Tartus and Latakia in Syria. They also want to use Sirte as a naval base in addition to al-Jufra.

Sirte has become a bargaining chip for both Moscow and Ankara. The latter could acquiesce to Russian control in al-Jufra in return for Sirte.

Libya’s Fate Depends Upon Sirte

Therefore, Libya’s fate depends upon what happens in Sirte. The Turkish-backed GNA remains confident that it can win this conflict, and it has already acted aggressively toward certain NATO members wishing to intervene in Libya. On June 17th, a French vessel under NATO command conducted a check on a cargo ship believed to be violating a UN embargo by transporting arms to Libya. In retaliation, Turkish ships threatened the French vessel.

Libya as a whole is strategically important to Turkey due to its vast oil fields, and until peace can be achieved, there is no reason why they will not eventually enter Sirte.

The LNA is allies with the USA, Russia, the UAE and Egypt. If the GNA invades Sirte and Egypt follows through with its threat, such a move could trigger a war between Turkey and the LNA’s allies.

The US Must Intervene

This is where the US and NATO have the opportunity to act as honest brokers. Washington should issue sanctions against Haftar and initiate a peace process that involves the Libyan people to prevent a repeat of what happened in 2015. During that year, a peace agreement negotiated in Morocco was viewed as illegitimate due to its lack of consent from Libyan citizens.

But some NATO members, like France, believe Turkey should be tackled before Russia. Meanwhile, the US wishes to see Ankara more involved in the peace process. There would have to be a united strategy among NATO states before they intervene in Libya.

Any future outcome in Libya depends on Sirte. It is vital all sides find a compromise, and fast.