By Evangelos D. Kokkinos
The Libyan issue is a matter of life and death for Erdogan – a one-way downfall for the Turkish president after the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar paralyzed the Turkish-backed Government of National Accords (GNA) based in Tripoli by driving into oil-rich areas.
Developments in Libya undoubtedly undermine Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as he recently expanded his involvement in the Libyan crisis, said Bülent Alirıza, director and senior associate of the Turkey Project for International Studies and Strategic Institute.
Erdoğan’s support for Fayez al-Sarraj led GNA, including the deployment of troops to Libya, against the increasing advances of the LNA, has not materialized to convince either Russia, the United States or the European Union to his project, according to Alirıza.
“This time Erdoğan could not get the understanding he can expect from Putin, with whom he discussed the situation in Libya at bilateral meetings in Constantinople, Moscow and Berlin or by President Donald Trump,” he said.
The Haftar-led LNA is now marching inside Tripoli, the capital of Libya where the GNA is based, in a Russian-backed campaign launched in April. Haftar and the LNA receive support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Russia, while Turkey and Qatar support the UN-recognized GNA.
“Negative developments on the ground in Libya inevitably increase the risks for Erdoğan, who should hope that the introduction of the Turkish military factor into the equation would discourage Haftar, but he chose to immediately threaten Turkey with continued aggression,” Alirıza said.
The situation in Libya is a matter of life and death for Erdoğan, who is facing growing popular anger within his country because of the miserable living conditions, the dwindling economy and the poverty that is “drowning” the Turkish people.
In addition, Ankara is called upon to face the gradually escalating Kurdish guerrilla warfare, both in Syria, northern Iraq and even inside Turkey, as Kurdish groups carry out powerful attacks on military sites and facilities. The outcome of the war in Libya, likely overwhelmingly in the favor of Haftar, will determine Erdoğan’s future, as a failure by Turkey will mean his end.
Oil as a “weapon” for the Libyan National Army
Libyan oil production has fallen by about three-quarters as forces loyal to Haftar shut down production units about a week ago, the National Petroleum Corporation (NOC) said.
The fall, from 1.2 million barrels a day to just over 320,000, caused an estimated $256 million loss from the closure of major oil fields in the south and ports in the east of the country, according to the NOC.
Haftar-backed forces have blocked the main oil terminals in eastern Libya, a day before the international conference in Berlin on January 19, calling for an end to foreign intervention in the conflict and the resumption of the peace process.
The move to block the country’s main source of income was a protest against Turkey’s decision to send military advisers and trainers to support the GNA.
Exports were suspended at the ports of Brega, Ras Lanouf, Al-Sidra, Al-Hariga and Zweitina in the country’s “oil valley”, the pipeline for the majority of Libyan crude exports. The NOC also complained about the closure of the valves at a pumping station in the southwest, which stopped production in the large fields of Al-Sharara and Al-Fil.
The company asserted that “fuel is still available in most areas” in Libya, but called for the closures “to ensure the continued supply of fuel products to all areas and restore vital revenue to the Libyan economy.”
North Africa’s oil-rich state is in turmoil following a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that overthrew and murdered Muammar Gaddafi. The country has two rival administrations – the GNA in Tripoli and the LNA in the east, based in Benghazi – while the oil sector has often been the target of attacks.
Embassies in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union delegation in Libya, called for the “immediate resumption” of NOC operations, warning of the dangers of the humanitarian situation in the country. Oil production had already fallen below 500,000 barrels a day from 2014 to 2016, due to clashes and attempts by rival factions to control the country’s main resource.