Turkey appears to be carrying the day in Libya on the cheap. All the more so, Turkey’s tripolitanian foray may even be a rare example of a self-financing semi-covert overseas military operation. According to leaked information, Libyan central bank transferred important sums of money to its Turkish sister to the tune of at least two instalments of four and eight billion USD respectively. To top it off, Ankara has set its sights on oil and gas deals on and off-shore as well as Misrata port operating concession.
How was it so seemingly easily possible? Well, it so appears that the self-proclaimed European Mediterranean powers were in fact punching well above their weights. Not only they lacked power but also they did not have any martial appetite whatsoever. In short, while Turkey projected power these were barely posturing. On the other hand, the midgets with deep pockets could only have pushed Egypt so far to realize that while their strongman talked the talk, could not as much walk the walk. Sisi is late to the party by around seven months and even if a neighbour in contrast to Turkey’s long haul, still quite far from Sirte.
As a by-product of their losing Libyan bet perhaps, now UAE is reportedly bankrolling all the adverse entities with an axe to grind against Ankara from Bashar Al Assad to PKK. France and Italy are scuttling around quite aimlessly just in order to be seen as activating diplomatic networks. In these shaky post COVID-19 pandemic times, no European power is ready to play hard ball in the far away shores of Libya. Enter Russia, which for the moment drew the proverbial line in the sand between Mashreq and Maghreb in oil rich Sirte and militarily important Jufra.
Ergo yes, Turkey is apparently poised to carry the day. However, the bets are still on when it comes to see who will carry the entire ball game. A good start is not often times sign of a good finish. “Start as a Turk, finish as a German” the saying goes around here. One outcome may well be a de facto or Sudanese style de jure partitioning of Libya –what with Turkey finding itself left with the dry end. Another one can be, if not bleeding white of Turkey’s resources in mid-term, luring of Tripoli by bigger financial largesse. Yet a third option can in turn be the emerging of Aqila Salah and the Tobruk parliament as a so-called political compromise solution that will be to the taste of all.
The end of the story will also pretty much depend on the outcome of US presidential elections in November. If Trump steps down, the incoming administration may re-think the non-existent US foreign policy and replace the present shimmying with proper diplomacy. Now, US seems to have chosen the option of pushing an eager Turkey against Russia both in Idleb and in Libya in order to turn these theatres to quagmires for the latter.
U.S. also turns a blind eye to Turkey’s muscling itself 30 km deep into Iraqi Kurdistan to squash the PKK rear-camps scattered across the mountainous border areas. On the other hand, US forced KDP/KRG backed ENKS and PYD to find common ground in north and east Syria with KRG president Nechirvan Barzani’s blessing in an apparent shot at distancing Rojave from Qandil. The palatability and the sustainability of that US move will depend on the internal military-civilian, nationalist-Islamist balances inside the ruling coalition will react and the political survival instinct of President Erdoğan.
Last but not the least, for the immediate native audience like yours truly, all these are part and parcel of the same show. Increasingly militarized on the outside, authoritarian on the inside, Erdoğan’s regime leaves no quarter for a breath of fresh air to freedoms. For any meaningful change in Turkey’s regional policies bent on using elbows, a change in power is a pre-condition. Yet, whether a potential change in power in the years to come will translate into alternate policies in these areas and to regime change is still anybody’s guess.