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‘There is no red line.’ What is keeping Turkey and Egypt from war in Libya?

This post was published in RIA Novosti. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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MOSCOW, (BM) – The Egyptian parliament has given the head of state Abdel Fattah al-Sisi the right to use the armed forces in Libya – Cairo supports General Haftar, whose army controls the eastern part of the country.

In response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped up aid to the Faiz Saraj Government of National Accord in Tripoli. A Turkish-Egyptian clash is brewing. RIA Novosti figured out who would be able to reconcile the participants in the confrontation.

“Oil Crescent”

General Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) hold the cities of Sirte and Al-Jufra, where oil terminals are located, through which Libya’s main export commodity, hydrocarbons, goes to Europe.

The Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Faiz Saraj, made unsuccessful attempts to dislodge the LNA forces from there. The situation changed after Turkey’s intervention.

In the winter, Saraj and Erdogan agreed on financial and military assistance. Fighting broke out on the Sirte coast. Despite the clear advantages, the PNS failed to take the cities: due to international intermediaries.

First, Moscow and Ankara resumed bilateral negotiations on a Libyan settlement. Then Cairo got down to business: the Egyptian authorities have always supported Haftar, but this time they were in dialogue with his opponents.

President al-Sisi called on the international community to reconcile the factions and put pressure on external parties to the conflict, disarm Saraj’s units and hand over the arsenals to Haftar. Otherwise, the Egyptian authorities did not rule out direct participation in the conflict. The fighting stopped.

Preemptive diplomacy

Despite the lull, tensions remain on the approaches to Sirte and El Jufra. Recently, the Haftar army recorded an increase in the number of TNC troops and their active movement along the coast. There were rumors that a new attack was being prepared on the eastern cities: Saraj announced that there were no “red lines” for him in the attack on Sirte.

Haftar’s army suffered losses after the spring battles for Tripoli. To prevent conflict, or at least prepare for it, the authorities in the east turned to Cairo. Egypt immediately promised to send troops.

A clash between Haftar and Saraj could lead to an open armed confrontation between Egypt and Turkey, and this will affect all the countries of North Africa. This prospect alarmed Libya’s neighbors. Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebun was one of the first to speak: he called on the parties to heed the opinion of the United Nations.

The opponents agreed. Acting UN Special Representative for Libya Stephanie Williams has arrived in the country. The talks about the settlement did not produce breakthrough results. But Algeria did not give up: Foreign Minister Sabri Bukadum in hot pursuit went to Moscow.

“Algeria and Russia adhere to the agreements of the Berlin Conference (on Libya. – Ed.). There are clearly spelled out concrete steps, and their sequence, and timing. We believe that all this remains quite relevant,” said Sergey Lavrov.

Bukadum confirmed: the Algerian side is against the war in Libya. Both ministers recalled that the participants in the confrontation pledged to stop fighting and not provoke each other. Another important point is the arms embargo on the PNS and LNA.

Russian-Turkish peacekeeping

Talks on a Libyan settlement are continuing between Russia and Turkey. This week announced the intention to create a joint working group on Libya – the new format will allow you to act more actively. The ultimate goal is to achieve a sustainable ceasefire, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Experts do not exclude that the Russian-Turkish consultations will become an analogue of the negotiation process on Syria.

“According to Moscow, Libya should not fall into the sphere of influence of one country – Turkey or Egypt. Only under this condition will we be able to respect the interests of all parties. Russia has no favorites here, Ankara and Cairo understand this. The situation resembles the talks on Syria in Astana. format. There were many contradictions between Iran and Turkey, but as a result, the countries became guarantors of a political settlement,” says Grigory Lukyanov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council.

“Russia sympathizes with Haftar, but generally remains neutral and interacts with both sides of the confrontation, as well as with Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Italy and France, although not all share the same views on Libya. It is possible that the Russian authorities are trying to restore seriously shaken confidence external forces to Haftar. Turkey does not want to make contact with the field marshal yet. Perhaps negotiations with Russia will change the balance,” explains Orhan Gafarli of the Center for Political Studies in Ankara.

Unprofitable war

Despite the formidable rhetoric of Turkey and Egypt, experts rule out a direct clash in Libya. Ankara and Cairo have different interests, and the war is only a hindrance to them.

Lukyanov reveals the economic background: “Turkey seeks to consolidate an agreement with the PNS on the division of the Mediterranean shelf – thus Ankara will strengthen its position in negotiations on gas exports with the countries of the eastern Mediterranean. And a clash with Egypt on Libyan territory will put an end to this.”

The main task of Cairo is to weaken the influence of Islamists, the expert believes. He recalls that there are many supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood * in the PNS. For as-Sisi “Ikhwan” (“al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun” * – the name of the “Muslim Brotherhood” * in Arabic) is an ideological enemy. Moderate Islamists ruling Turkey also instill suspicion in the Egyptian leader.

“The rhetoric of Egypt about its readiness to invade Libya is rather a demonstration. But it is aimed precisely at preventing hostilities. Open confrontation is not in the interests of Cairo,” Lukyanov said.

Gafarli draws attention to the fact that Turkey, during the rule of Islamist Mohammed Mursi in Egypt, managed to conclude an agreement with him on the division of the Mediterranean shelf. In fact, the document is similar to what Erdogan signed in the spring with the LNA.

But after the change of power in Cairo, the agreements with Ankara became invalid. “Relations between the countries have deteriorated sharply. Now an agreement with Saraj on the Mediterranean shelf is the only way to strengthen Ankara’s status in this region.”

As long as external players have tactical and pragmatic interests in Libya, a direct armed conflict will be avoided.

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