Turkey keen to avoid war of words with Egypt over Libya, pushing diplomacy - columnist

Turkey is keen to avoid engaging in a rhetorical row with Egypt over the Libyan conflict, and is pushing a policy that involves diplomacy as well as considering further military engagement, a Hürriyet Daily News columnist said on Wednesday.

Turkey is backing the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) in its fight against rebel General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which is supported by Egypt, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), among others. 

On Monday, Egypt’s parliament authorised the deployment of troops to Libya in support of the LNA.

Columnist Serkan Demirtaş said that Turkey does not underestimate Egypt’s capacity and willingness to military intervene in Libya and is pursing a two-pronged policy.

“On one front, it refuses to abandon diplomatic efforts with relevant parties to broker a lasting ceasefire in Libya under certain conditions imposed by the GNA; on the other, it continues its military engagement without stop, knowing that it can only gain the upper hand if it’s strong in the field,” he said. 

This week, Turkey has held talks with Qatar, its main regional ally, and with Russia over Libya, and has organised a trilateral summit with Libya and Malta in Ankara.

But these diplomatic steps come as the two warring sides and their international supporters are now in preparations for a battle over Sirte, a key strategic city held by the LNA that is vital for control of the country’s oil sector.

As this potential battle looms, international pressure is growing on Turkey over fears of a wider regional war, Voice of America said on Tuesday. 

After a phone conversation on Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi called for a ceasefire in Libya.

"The two leaders affirmed the need for immediate de-escalation in Libya, including through a ceasefire and progress on economic and political negotiations," VOA cited the White House as saying.

The leaders of France, Germany, and Italy issued a warning this week to Ankara over its military backing of the GNA.

"We are ready to consider the possible use of sanctions if the breaches of the [United Nations Libyan arms] embargo at sea, on land or in the air continue," read a joint statement.

But Ankara is aware previous European Union sanction threats rarely result in meaningful measures due to Turkey's strategic importance, Atilla Yeşilada, a consultant at Global Source Partners, told VOA.

"If there are any sanctions, they would target individuals active in Libyan affairs, such as military commanders and, or businesspeople suspected of intermediating the military aid to the GNA, and not Turkey at large. Thus, they will probably be symbolic," Yeşilada said.

VOA cited David Schenker, assistant secretary for Near East Affairs at the U.S. State Department, as saying last week that it is unfair to only single out Turkey for criticism over supplying arms to Libya - as Egypt, Russia, and the UAE are all suspected of supplying arms to Haftar's forces.

"They could at least if they were serious…call out all parties in the conflict when they violate the arms embargo," he said.

Despite growing international pressure, Ankara believes it has a winning hand in Libya and is calculating that no country is ready to significantly escalate the conflict, political analyst İlhan Uzgel told VOA.

"There is a kind of hubris self-indulgence. Sometimes this may lead them (Turkish leaders) to make serious mistakes as they've done in the past," he said.