Turkey and Egypt, two regional rivals, have had tense relations since 2013 when Egypt’s military replaced the country’s Islamist government. Natural gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Libyan civil war have further escalated the tensions between them. On July 20, the Egyptian parliament approved the deployment of armed forces abroad, which could bring Egypt and Turkey into direct confrontation in Libya. As Turkey backs the Tripoli based Government of National Accord (GNA), Egypt supports Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). While the first accompanying article highlights Turkey’s strategic planning for a confrontation with Egypt, the second article analyzes the Turkish President’s statement on the possibility of Egypt’s intervention and Turkey’s diplomatic efforts to deescalate the heightened tensions in Libya. The third article reports Turkey’s reaction to Egypt’s agreement with Greece on maritime boundaries.
The first article states that Turkey’s strategic planning is based on three factors while evaluating the likelihood of a military confrontation with Egypt: “Egypt’s ground, air, naval and proxy capabilities, its actual willingness for intervention and the international context.” The first factor is based on Ankara’s perception that Egypt’s land forces are too weak to launch a ground operation into Libya to challenge Turkish-backed forces. However, the author states that air operations could pose a challenge to Turkey due to the long distance between Turkey and Libya unless Turkey deploys warplanes or uses a third country close to Libya to launch an aerial campaign. Second, Turkish officials believe Egypt is unwilling to risk launching an operation into Libya because it faces other challenges including a water dispute with Ethiopia, struggling to handle COVID-19, and dealing with terrorist groups in Sinai. Finally, Turkey hopes to capitalize on disagreement among European countries on Libya and maybe receive the support of some European countries. It also counts on the United States’ “concerns over Russian presence in” Libya. Turkey also believes Algeria and Tunisia are unlikely to back an Egyptian “intervention due to the security risks and the prospect of migration waves.”
According to the second article President Erdoğan stated that “Turkey will continue to support the GNA…in line with the two memoranda of understanding signed in late 2019” and “would not permit any country to make aspirations concerning Libya.” On the diplomacy front, Turkey held talks with Qatar and Russia and a trilateral summit with the GNA and Malta. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Versihinin visited Ankara for a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Sedat Önal to find a resolution in Libya. These diplomatic calls intensified as the GNA prepares to launch an operation to take Sirte.
As the third article reports, on August 6, Egypt and Greece, two of Turkey’s rivals, signed an agreement to set maritime boundaries between them and demarcate exclusive economic zones for oil and gas drilling rights. This agreement is very similar to the accord signed between Turkey and the GNA last year. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stated that Turkey considers this maritime delimitation agreement null and void, because it violates both Turkey and Libya’s maritime boundaries.
Source: Metin Gurcan,“Turkey untroubled by conflict with Egypt, UAE in Libya” al-monitor, 27 July 2020. https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/07/turkey-egypt-libya-large-scale-war-over-sirte-jufra-unlikely.html
Strategic planning in Ankara focuses on a three factors: Egypt’s ground, air, naval and proxy capabilities, its actual willingness for intervention and the international context.
Ankara believes Egypt’s land forces are too weak for a large-scale ground operation… Egypt’s shortcomings in the fight against the Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula, Ankara reckons, show that its land forces lack much capacity in low-intensity conflicts as well… In sum, Ankara seems to confidently rule out a comprehensive ground operation by Egypt in Libya.
…Ankara is preoccupied with whether Egypt will receive open or covert air support from the United Arab Emirates, its chief ally in Libya, and Russia.
Likewise, Egyptian and Emirati forces might try to disrupt the aerial and naval logistical routes between Turkey and Libya, which are 2,300 kilometers (1,430 miles) apart. Continued supplies, troop transfers and evacuations would be a tough logistical task for Turkey on such a long route.
…the air power dimension is the most challenging for Ankara.
How willing Egypt is for a military intervention? Ankara believes that Cairo’s posturing is mostly for domestic consumption, intended to divert attention from its failure to deter Ethiopia in a water dispute on the Nile and poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Ankara’s assessment, an Egypt struggling to cope with a few terrorist groups in the Sinai could hardly take a major risk in Libya and even if it does, its likely defeat could precipitate the end of the Sisi regime.
In the international context, Ankara is well aware that it needs European political backing, especially from Italy, Germany, Britain and Spain, and logistical support from Malta and Maghreb countries to move on Sirte as well as US support to balance Russia in Libya. It has stepped up diplomatic efforts, seeking to capitalize on discords among EU countries on Libya and the US military’s concerns over Russian presence in the country.
In Ankara’s view, Libyans would perceive an Egyptian intervention as an invasion. Neighboring countries such as Algeria and Tunisia, which have stayed out of the conflict thus far, would also be averse to an Egyptian intervention due to the security risks and the prospect of migration waves.
Source: Serkan Demirtaş,“Turkey defies Egyptian move but takes measures in Libya” Hurriyet Daily News, 22 July 2020. https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/opinion/serkan-demirtas/turkey-defies-egyptian-move-but-takes-measures-in-libya-156756
Turkey will continue to support the Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister Fayyez al-Sarraj in line with the two memoranda of understanding signed in late 2019, the president stated. Thanks to Turkey’s move, Libya is safer for Libyans, he also suggested.
His statement came at a time when there are worrying developments concerning the Libyan conflict, as the Egyptian government has secured authorization from its parliament to deploy troops to foreign soil – that is, Libya.
Erdoğan, without naming Egypt or this specific move by its parliament, challenged Cairo as he said Turkey would not permit any country to make aspirations concerning Libya.
In just the last two days, Turkey has held talks with Qatar, its main regional ally, and Russia over Libya, as well as organized a trilateral summit with Libya and Malta in the Turkish capital.
A visit by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Versihinin to Ankara, where he had talks with his counterpart, Sedat Önal, was also important as the two sides have long delayed meetings on a ceasefire due to their differing opinions on Libya.
All these diplomatic steps come as the two warring sides and their international supporters are now in preparations for what the GNA calls the Sirte Operation…
Source: Zuhal Demirci,“Çavuşoğlu, Yunanistan-Mısır arasındaki sözde deniz yetki alanları sınırlandırma anlaşmasını değerlendirdi (Çavuşoğlu evaluates the so-called maritime delimitation agreement between Greece and Egypt” Anadolu Ajansı, 6 August 2020.
When looking at the given coordinates, we can easily see this agreement violates the continental shelf and rights of both Turkey and Libya…
Çavuşoğlu emphasized that this so-called agreement is null and void, “We will continue to show that it is null and void in the field and at the table…”