Libya strongman, Marshal Khalifa Haftar (who held the 18 Italian fishermen of Mazara del Vallo prisoner for 3 months and agreed to grant their release during the Christmas holidays) declared war on Turkey. “There will be no peace in the presence of a colonizer on our land” Haftar said last Thursday on the occasion of the 69th anniversary of Libya’s independence. “Then we will take up arms to shape our peace with our own hands. As Turkey rejects peace and opts for war, be prepared to drive out the occupier by faith, will and weapons.”
The goal is clearly exposed. Haftar, supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France, Russia, intends to defeat the Turkish forces. Their intervention with military, material and mercenary advisers blocked the offensive against the United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, when it was one step away from victory. Direct support is the practical consequence of the agreements signed in November 2019 between Ankara and Tripoli aimed controlling the maritime borders of the Mediterranean and strengthening direct forms of military cooperation.
“Officers and soldiers, get ready,” Haftar urged, calling hundreds of soldiers to parade at a military barracks in the eastern port city of Benghazi. The declaration of war comes a week after Ankara’s parliament passed a motion extending the deployment of soldiers to Libya for 18 months.
Haftar’s declaration of war was taken seriously by Ankara. In response to Haftar’s proclamation, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar traveled to Libya to inspect Turkish military units. During the visit he issued a warning to General Haftar. “A war criminal, murderer, his supporters must know that they will be considered a target in case of an attack on Turkish troops stationed in Libya“
From words to deeds, it was a short step for Haftar. His troops occupied the small but strategic city of Ubari, in the south of Libya until now controlled by Tripoli. General Ali al Sharif, military leader of the GNA forces, accused France of not only having supported the military offensive that violated the truce, but of having even ordered it, with the aim of strengthening the presence of the oil multinational TOTAL in Libya, Sahel and Sahara. The Ubari area is rich in oil … According to accredited sources, the offensive on Ubari was conducted with a strong presence of Russian mercenaries who took part in the fighting.
Lorenzo Cremonesi, Corriere della Sera’s war correspondent, offers us a clear vision of the international games at stake in Libya. “Less than three months after the ceasefire declared between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, thanks to UN mediation, today more than ever Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are dictating the rules of the game through their military deployed in the country. Thus the hope of the birth of a unitary government is weakened and instead the option of a division in half of the country under the influence of the Russian east and the Turkish west grows “.
The war declarations against Turkey made by Haftar and the military offensive on Ubari mark the end of the truce signed last October. Haftar and his Turkish-backed rival had returned to the negotiating table. A truce that could not evolve into an end of the conflict, according to regional experts. Despite the halt in fighting, both sides are complying with the terms of the ceasefire to strengthen military forces.
If Cremonesi identifies Putin and Erdogan as the main foreign actors in the Libyan conflict, Egypt and Ethiopia represent two key points for what has now become a geopolitical war fought remotely by Europe, Russia, Arab monarchies and Turkey.
On Monday, December 21, the Egyptian parliament authorized the deployment of troops outside the country after the president threatened military action against Turkish-backed forces in neighbouring Libya. Parliament unanimously approved “the deployment of members of the Egyptian armed forces on combat missions outside Egypt’s borders to defend Egypt’s national security … against criminal armed militias and foreign terrorist elements,” the statement read.
The possibility of a confrontation between Egyptian and Turkish military forces in Libya now becomes probable. Egypt has long been committed to limiting Turkish expansionism in the Mediterranean and North Africa. General Al-Sisi is convinced that Erdogan wants to recreate the Ottoman Empire, of which Egypt was a part. Although this belief may not correspond to reality, Turkish expansionism in the Mediterranean and North Africa is reshaping the role of Egypt or, which has always had an important influence on the region. If Libya could be the first battleground between Egypt and Turkey, other hotbeds of war are looming on the horizon.
The clumsy attempt to eliminate with weapons the political opponent (Tigray People’s Liberation Front – TPLF) of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali has created another scenario of regional war. Eritrea and the United Arab Emirates are already militarily involved alongside the federal government and Sudan, probably alongside the TPLF. Egypt is studying the opportunities for intervention in the Ethiopian conflict through proxy wars in order to resolve the dispute over the Nile waters and the disputed mega dam GERD in its favour. Turkey, even if up to now it has not shown clear intentions, could in turn enter the Ethiopian conflict in an anti-Cairo key. If Libya is already an African Syria, Ethiopia runs the risk.
The European Union is divided and seems to have been turned upside down by events. The obstinacy not to let Turkey join the EU and the subsequent weakness shown by Brussels in the face of Turkish expansionism in the Mediterranean that is threatening Greece (its historical rival), have strengthened Erdogan’s imperialist ideas. The situation is complicated by Turkish participation in NATO. Technically, Turkey is part of the European defence system designed and controlled by the United States.
European countries do not have a common line on Libya. Some support Tripoli, others General Haftar, others swing from side to side in alternating phases, see Italy. The Italian government is in fact accused of double-dealing as it officially supports the Government of National Accord of Fayez Al-Sarraj but at the same time indirectly supports General Khalifa Haftar. According to some Italian foreign policy specialists, Italy’s attitude would point out “the absolute lack of a strategic vision on Libya and the Mediterranean that goes beyond the obsession with having to stop a (non-existent) migrant invasion from Africa” .
The EU’s unconditional support for Egypt has been guaranteed in the hope that General Al-Sisi will be a bulwark and be able to contain Turkish expansionism in the region. At the same time, Brussels tries to prevent Egypt from entering the Ethiopian conflict, as since 2018 the EU has decided to focus on Prime Minister Abdiy, presenting him as a reformist and a democrat, after doing gold business during the 30 years of power of the TPLF. The same dilemma is faced by the United States.
For the West, the risk of Egyptian armed interventions in both Libya (directly) and Ethiopia (indirectly) is materializing. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, leading point of the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak as Director of Military Intelligence, is enjoying a deplorable silence and “Green Light” that protects him from the daily violations of human and civil rights in Egypt, precisely because of his promise to erect an impassable bulwark against Turkey. A promise that allows him to receive large quantities of weapons, especially from the United States, France and Italy. In 2021, these weapons could be used in a near future to “settle scores” with Ethiopia by resolving the complicated controversy over the waters of the Nile by brute force.
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