Updates from Libya

(To Philip Del Monte)

The Turkish government's decision to make the Hagia Sophia a mosque is part of the country's re-Islamization process forcefully imposed by Erdogan after the failed military coup in July 2016.

Secular Turkey with the Armed Forces to guarantee the modernity wanted by Kemal Ataturk is dead, but from its ashes an ambitious power was born that must hide the contradictions of its transformation process behind the blanket of success in the international arena. The story of Hagia Sophia has in fact brought Turkey and its aggressive foreign policy back to the center of the public debate, based on the reconstruction of the old Ottoman sphere of influence in the Mediterranean from the Levantine coasts to Libya without excluding the Horn of Africa.

Libyan events are particularly affected by the neo-Ottoman approach of Erdogan's policy and in the last few days the striking contrast with Egypt is the litmus test of the ideas circulating in the milieu Turkish and pro-Turkish in Tripoli. Sarraj's military victory over Haftar, the liberation of Tripolitania and the consequent siege to which Sirte is subjected have exacerbated the situation on the ground and cleared the cards in the chanceries. This is because no one - even among the most highly rated professionals - expected such a sudden collapse of Haftar's forces.

In response, it seems that Emirati planes hit the Turkish base of al-Watiya, west of Tripoli, on 5 July without causing victims but sending a clear message to Ankara: the war in Libya has not yet been won and therefore Turks cannot feel free to behave like colonizers. If on the part of the NATO allies of Turkey, with France in the lead, the Turkish military deployment in Libya is considered unsustainable or, according to the (too much) soft line adopted by the United States and Italy, unwelcome and judged as a dangerous interference, for the declared enemies of Ankara (United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia above all) the declared objective is to drive the Turks out of Libya.

A massive military presence of the Turks in a strategic position in the "disputed quadrant" of the Mediterranean - the sea at the center of the geopolitical fault lines - could not be accepted by the two Sunni powers, let alone by Egypt, given the massive energy and political-religious interests that in Libya are being redefined. It is no coincidence that when the Turkish Presidency's Directorate for Communications stated that al-Jufra (the air base that acts as a support in the defense of Sirte and a pivot for any counter-offensive actions by the Cyrenaeans) was included among the military objectives striking, Cairo's reaction was particularly violent with al-Sisi who traced his personal "red line" for a possible direct intervention by Egypt in the Libyan conflict. The exercises of the Egyptian troops that take place daily at the border between the two countries are a message that should not be underestimated but which politically has the clear purpose of showing the war potential of Cairo as a deterrent factor against any GNA offensive supported by the Turks that they can get to touch the "oil crescent".

To launch another signal, in the past few days a tripolino air raid has hit and put out of use the anti-aircraft devices Pantsir Russian private security company Wagner (which supports the Tobruk government) also causing the death of three mercenaries in al-Jufra and Sukna. Official sources of the LNA have denied that the Tripoli hit al-Jufra accusing Turkey of having spread fake news for use and consumption of the media to feed the general sense of insecurity and, above all, to create an imaginary response to the bombing of al-Watiya.

Libyan Marshal and former Cyrenaic strongman Khalifa Haftar said in a press conference that he will continue to defend Libya from Turkish colonialism and that Turkey continues to illegally bring officers, mercenaries and weapons into the country to fight against the Libyan people. The anti-colonial theme remains a hot topic in the Haftarian communication which aims to represent the government of Tripoli as heterodirect and in the pay of foreign powers. All this while the National Oil Company announces a new block of oil exports after the repetition of sabotage of oil pipelines and plants by the Cyrenaean militias returned, in this phase of crisis, to re-propose the tactic of blackmail against the NOC and in fact against international companies and buyers.

Meanwhile, al-Sarraj's executive has been warned by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) for clashes between armed groups belonging to the Tripoline militias in the suburb of Janzour. UNSMIL therefore called on the Tripoli government to initiate an "effective and coordinated reform of the security, demobilization and reintegration" sector of the militiamen after the siege of Haftar was broken.

The warning of the UN mission is the son of the theory on the political solution of the Libyan conflict and does not consider how complicated it can be for Sarraj to demobilize the armed groups that support him and without whom he would not have been in power for a long time (and that de facto they manage public order in Tripoli). The strength and weakness of the Tripoli government both reside in the branched power - and in some areas linked to both common and organized crime - of the militias, the true potentates of post-Gaddafi Libya and interlocutors with whom one must converse a position of equality and which will constitute in the future the backbone of the restructured Libyan armed forces and of the state and parastatal apparatuses.

If the first investigations seem to connect the Janzour shooting to a settlement of accounts for the control of the small criminal rackets of the capital, it is also true that the military victory brought to light, as a side effect, the will between the warlords and the capitol of the Tripoline militias to rebalance their power based on the efforts made during the last phase of the conflict, the one ended in front of Sirte. A passage that will not be painless and with which Turkey will also have to deal if it wants to maintain a lasting influence in the country.

Photo: Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri / web