Turkey-backed Forces’ Advance May Lead to Egyptian Military Intervention in Libya
The current chaos and insecurity in Libya are considered as direct threats to the national security of the neighboring countries, especially Egypt.
In 2015, Egypt intervened and carried out several airstrikes in the cities of Sirte and Derna as a result of kidnapping and killing 21 Egyptian Copts by a Libyan terror cell, affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS).
Until now, that was the biggest direct military intervention by Egypt in Libya since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. The eastern borders of Libya are considered a relatively safe haven for the armed militias, where weapons can be smuggled easily and fighters can move freely from Libya to its neighbour.
Many militia and extremist groups are located in both countries, the most dangerous of which is based in Sinai, similar to the Islamic Youth Shura Council or the Al-Murabitoun Group. Collectively, those facts prompted the Egyptian authorities to take all necessary measures to secure the country’s borders.
The direct aim of the Egyptian intervention in Libya is attempting to control terrorist and jihadist militias in Sinai to avoid their deployment along the Western Sahara. Moreover, these measures aim to eliminate illegal immigration and arms and drug smuggling through Libya to Egypt and vice versa.
The past few years have seen a dramatic increase in violence Burqa, and along the border between Libya and Egypt. Many Egyptian jihadist Salafi groups joined the radical Libyan organizations operating in these areas and led joint attacks.
In 2012, the US consulate in Benghazi was attacked by Libyan and Egyptian Salafi groups, assassinating the US ambassador. Such operations refer to the big danger posed by the Salafi jihadist groups, and justify Egyptian fears increased due to the growth of terrorism along the Egyptian-Libyan borders.
The Libyan crisis is a challenge especially for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, since it is linked with the internal stability and political legitimacy, despite his official statements, in which he defends the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya. This was evident in his pressure on the international community to overlook Egypt’s intervention in Libya, in coordination with regional and international allies (UAE, Russia and France). The goal of the intervention is to protect Burqa against extremist groups and contribute to the stability of Libya and Egypt. Meanwhile, Sisi received support from his Libyan allies within the Tobruk parliament, and in particular, from the Libyan leader Khalifa Haftar. Since his return to Libya and launching the “Operation Dignity” against the armed militias in Benghazi and Burqa, Hafta has benefited from Egyptian support and its military strength, especially in terms of intelligence exchange and logistic assistance.
Egypt has taken various measures to counter the growing and asymmetric threats along the shared border with Libya, such as deploying anti-terrorist field armies or launching a massive military exercise in the western area.
In addition to the military and security factors, Egypt’s intervention in Libyan affairs is depending on economic factors: Before the fall of Qadhafi, Egyptian workers in Libya were estimated at around a million and a half, most of them Copts, working in the country.
It is obvious that the decrease in the number of Egyptian migrant workers in Libya will have serious effects on the Egyptian economy (reducing the rate of GDP growth). This worsening economic situation threatens political stability in Egypt due to the already high national unemployment rate.
In their emergency meeting, the Arab foreign ministers affirmed, through video meeting, which Egypt had called for, that political solution would be the only possible way to get Libya out of its current crisis. The ministers called for an immediate ceasefire and returning to the negotiations table.
They prefer to avoid a new battle in Libya, as the two battling parties are mobilizing their forces near the main oil industry area and their supporters are threatening to escalate the conflict.
“Libya is passing through a very dangerous turn in the course of the conflict, tearing apart this important Arab country,” Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a statement.
Egypt has already declared that its army might intervene directly in Libya, whereas France announced that it will not condone the Turkish intervention there.
A significant change took place on the Libyan fronts following the Turkish intervention that helped the internationally recognized GNA to expel the Libyan Army from Tripoli’s outskirts and the northwestern part of the country.
The Libyan army, backed by Egypt, UAE, and Russia, has withdrawn to Sirte, where airstrikes stopped the advance of the GNA. The two conflicting parties are now preparing for the battle of Sirte.
Yassin Aqatay, an AKP MP in Turkey, said that the GNA is preparing for recapturing Sirte and that Egyptian leaders neither have the power, nor the courage to try to stop that.
Aqila Saleh, Speaker of the Libyan Parliament, said that the Libyan people formally ask Egypt to intervene militarily, if maintaining the Libyan and Egyptian national security stable. Saleh believes that “this intervention will be a legitimate self-defense, if the terrorist and armed militias cross the red line that President Sisi talked about and try to cross the cities of Sirte or Al-Jafra.”
In an interview with the Egyptian Middle East News agency, Saleh says that Sisi demanded each party should remain in its place and that everyone should go for a consensus through a political solution according to the outputs of the Berlin conference, and that he did not threaten or attack any party.
Chance for Regaining Control
The last month’s withdrawal of the national army to Sirte was a blow to its leader Khalifa Haftar, whose aim was to unify Libya by force after years of chaos and division.
Any progress by the NAG would be an opportunity for it to regain control over the oil-rich regions of the country.
Last month, the US said that Russia had sent warplanes to the national army base, operating near Sirte last week.
However, diplomats say there is still an opportunity to avoid a battle over Sirte, the western gateway to the main Libyan oil ports, especially if Turkey and Russia will reach an agreement.
Russia said it seeks a ceasefire in Libya, denying a UN report issued last month, stating that about 1,200 Russian mercenaries are fighting in Libya.