Turkey Poised to Intervene in Libyan Civil War over Energy Disputes

Photo: Turkish Parliament approved the deployment of troops to support the UN-installed Libyan Government of National Accord on Thursday

By Jennifer Kelly

On Sunday Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkish military units have begun moving into Libya to support the UN-installed Government of National Accord (GNA) in the ongoing Libyan civil war. The military agreement with Turkey was requested by the Libyan GNA, among widespread condemnation from the leaders of various countries in the region and the world.

The North African country has been wracked by armed conflict and turmoil since NATO-backed forces, led by the US, deposed and killed Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Open civil war has raged since 2014 between the two opposing governments, the GNA based in Tripoli and the Libyan House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk.

The GNA’s request for aid comes after a sweeping campaign earlier this year by General Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army (LNA) to take Tripoli and remove the GNA from power. On Saturday, the Tobruk-based government voted against the agreement between the GNA and Turkey, as well as for the prosecution of GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj for “high treason.” Just hours later, the LNA launched an airstrike against the GNA’s military academy in Tripoli, killing at least 30 and wounding another 33.

According to UN reports, Turkey has already provided arms and drones to the GNA, while Russia has supplied mercenaries and arms to the LNA under General Haftar, who is also reported to have Chinese drones, the support of France, and various other forms of foreign support.

The Turkish intervention is in the interest of securing maritime claims in the Eastern Mediterranean for Turkey, particularly concerning natural gas extraction. It comes on the back of a military deal struck between the GNA and Turkey in November with the goal of securing maritime borders between the two countries.

turkey-libya maritime border
The proposed result of Turkey and Libya’s maritime agreement [note: “Northern Cyprus” is only recognized by Turkey as a sovereign state]
The November agreement extended borders from the southern coast of Turkey to the East coast of Libya. Since 2009, large deposits of natural gas have been found in the eastern Mediterranean. Together Greece, Israel, Cyprus, Italy, Jordan, Egypt and Palestine have created the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum to distribute mining rights and facilitate the building of pipelines.

Turkey has railed against their exclusion since the Forum was announced, and consistently drilled in the maritime borders of other countries, even blocking ships from approaching mining areas. Its intervention in Libya is in part a ploy to strengthen its hand in attaining mining and distribution rights. Now, to the anger of the countries in the Gas Forum, the waters set to be mined are contested, and Turkey has sent drones to northern Cyprus to aid in the process of natural gas extraction.

Last Thursday, Israel, Cyprus, and Greece signed an agreement to build the EastMed pipeline crossing the Mediterranean sea floor, circumventing Turkey by taking natural gas straight from the Israeli and Cyprus controlled waters of the eastern Mediterranean into Europe. Turkey has long relied on pipelines flowing through it from Russia and the Middle East into Europe both economically and as political leverage. With the newly established maritime borders, the pipeline would now cross through contested Turkish waters.

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EastMed pipeline route

The US supports the building of the EastMed pipeline, seeing it as an opportunity to weaken the Russian energy exports in Europe, who presently account for approximately 40% of Europe’s oil and natural gas imports. Alongside their support for the EastMed pipeline, the US has also imposed sanctions on any company working on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline being built in the Baltic from Russia to Germany, which has strained relations with the European Union and Germany in particular. Russia also recently finished construction of a pipeline which bypasses Ukraine and flows through Turkey into Europe, called Turkstream, which began pumping gas on New Year’s Day.

This competition and collusion between imperialists and their semi-colonies lays the backdrop for Turkish intervention in Libya. The origins of the civil war itself come from conflicts within the ruling class of Libya as they attempted to form a new government in the wake of the 2011 NATO-backed killing of Gaddafi, and as imperialist powers sought to control the new government to serve their own ends. The current conflict between the GNA and HoR reflect years of jockeying between competing governments and the manipulations of outside powers.

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Territory controlled by various factions in the Libyan civil war as of mid-December

Haftar and the LNA have advanced on Tripoli over the past few months, and gained control over most of the country after having long controlled the eastern ports and recently securing the oil fields in the south, essential for the control and export of Libya’s oil wealth. The LNA has secured support in these areas, long economically depressed compared to the capital, by promising to more equitably distribute the revenue from oil exports. These hollow promises echo the words of others such as the deposed Gaddafi and mirrors the program of the Venezuelan bureaucratic bourgeoisie, who, through the marriage of the state and oil industry, claim to uplift the masses through class collaboration.

Open armed conflict between the two opposing governments, which has caused thousands of deaths and displaced thousands more, has been a boon for imperialists. While Russia has been accused of supplying arms and mercenaries to General Haftar, the US has waffled between support for the UN-backed government and more recently expressing support for the government in the east, trying to assert its influence over whichever side it sees as having the strongest position.

The relatively weak Russian imperialists increasingly seek to fill the gaps left by the failures of the more dominant US imperialists, much like the Soviet social-imperialists did in the Soviet-Afghan war. Like in Syria, they support one faction of the ruling class in a civil war only for their own imperialist ends.

Whether US and Russian imperialists seek to bring Haftar and his allies into power or simply keep the region unstable is unclear, however like the NATO forces which interceded to topple Gaddafi in 2011, they do so principally to secure control of foreign markets as well as access to raw materials like oil and natural gas. The imperialists also seek control, or at the very least influence, over these countries in order to gain useful strategic outposts for future military action and proxy conflicts, as the eastern Mediterranean has been a prize for naval powers for over a thousand years.

While US imperialism is compelled to maintain its global hegemony through force, this aggression necessarily breeds resentment and antagonism from the masses within these oppressed nations. Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, years of imperialist aggression and exploitation create the conditions by which the people of oppressed nations rebel against their own governments, often lackeys of imperialist powers, at this time principally US imperialism.

Libya is another battleground fought not in the interest of its people, but in the interests of imperialists who collude and compete to divide the markets and resources of the world for themselves, playing off the ambitions of the ruling class factions in countries they exploit. The people of Libya are tossed in different directions as the civil war rages on.

Turkey is using the turmoil and desperation of the GNA for its own benefit, and while the leaders of various countries condemn the Turkish intervention, it is not out of any consideration for the plight of Libya but merely a consideration of how it may affect their own interests.