Turkish troops, along with Turkey-aligned Syrian rebels, have now been sent to Libya.
They have been sent to defend Fayez al-Serraj’s government in Tripoli in western Libya. Russian forces are also in Libya — supporting General Khalifa Haftar’s rival administration based in Benghazi in the east.
There has been continuous civil strife throughout Libya since the overthrow of Colonel Gadaffi in 2011. The most recent episode began in April 2019, when General Haftar launched an attack on Tripoli.
Haftar has been a central figure in Libyan politics for over fifty years, taking part in Gadaffi’s coup as a young officer, and then serving as a senior army officer until being fleeing Libya after a failed attempt to oust Gadaffi. He returned during the Libyan Revolution, and has since been a prominent warlord in post-Gadaffi Libya.
While not necessarily a proxy war, the conflict has become intertwined with the rivalry between different global and regional powers. The government is being bolstered by the Turkey-Qatar bloc, whereas Haftar’s forces are supported by Egypt, Saudia Arabia, the UAE, and Russia.
Neither a summit between multiple heads of state in Berlin nor a summit in Moscow jointly brokered by Turkey and Russia have achieved much towards a ceasefire in Libya. Despite supporting opposite sides of the conflict, Erdoğan and Putin have worked closely together, both in dealing with Libya and more widely.
Gas pipelines have further complicated the international relations in and around the Mediterranean. Through an agreement with the Libyan government, Turkey has gained access to drilling rights in a much larger part of the eastern Mediterranean bordering Libya’s sea territory.
In addition to this, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (a disputed state controlling the northern half of Cyprus, recognised solely by Turkey) has been carrying out gas exploration missions in surrounding ocean areas which have been claimed as exclusive by the Republic of Cyprus.
Both of these actions have been opposed by the Republic of Cyprus, Greece, and Israel. They have set up the “East Mediterranean Gas Forum” and begun plans for a pipeline running from Israel through Cyprus and Greece into Italy. Turkey meanwhile has finally opened the TurkStream gas pipeline, jointly set up with Russia, in order to eventually give Russian gas a pathway to Europe which avoids Ukraine.
Amidst the brewing tensions over natural gas and the power plays between different imperialist powers is the reality in Libya: the slave trade of immigrants, the rickety boats full of refugees collapsing in the sea, and what is now nearly a decade of all-out civil war across the country.