The Egyptian parliament on Monday authorized President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to deploy troops in Libya to halt the advance of Turkish-backed militia allied with the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
If Sisi follows up on his threat to enforce a “red line” that would turn some of Libya’s richest oil fields into an Egyptian security buffer zone, Egyptian troops could find themselves fighting the Turkish military.
In June, Sisi drew his red line between the Libyan cities of Sirte and Jufra, cautioning that if Turkish-backed militia took control of Libya’s “petroleum crescent” they might plunder its oil wealth and pass some of the funds along to extremist organizations that pose a threat to Egypt.
After alternating between positions on Libyan intervention in July, Sisi firmly stated last week that if Turkish-backed forces move into Sirte, it will violate his red line and trigger a response.
Sirte is presently held by the Libyan National Army (LNA), the rival force led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar and supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Russia, along with a few other parties that believe Haftar would be better able to stabilize Libya than the fractious GNA alliance.
Haftar and his supporters believe the GNA is weak, corrupt, and aligned with terrorist groups, while the GNA and its supporters view Haftar as a brutal warlord and aspiring tyrant. Haftar laid siege to Tripoli and seemed as though he might eventually be able to capture the city until Turkey intervened on the GNA’s behalf. Egypt is further concerned that Turkey’s alliance with the GNA could expand Turkish influence on land and sea, seriously compromising the interests of Egypt and its allies.
Deutsche Welle noted the Egyptian House of Representatives is “filled with el-Sisi supporters,” so Monday’s session authorizing military action against “criminal militias” and “foreign terrorist” groups operating along Egypt’s “western front” was no surprise.
The Independent on Tuesday feared that conflict between Egypt and Turkey in Libya could be inevitable unless Sisi’s reported phone call to U.S. President Donald Trump pays off and Trump is able to persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stand down.
The Independent noted a great deal of Turkish military hardware is moving into position near Sirte, while Egypt has much less striking power available to quickly deploy along the “red line.” If Erdogan and the GNA want to make a move on Sirte, they might be tempted to act before Egypt can move a substantial force across the Libyan border:
On Monday, Qatar’s defence minister Khalid bin Mohamed al Attiyah, Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar and Libyan interior minister Fathi Bashagha conferred in Ankara over the impending conflict. Turkey has been flooding Libya with weapons, flying transport planes to the recently captured al-Watiya airbase to avoid French attempts to intercept its ships at sea.
“It’s not like anything I have ever seen in my lifetime,” said Yoruk Isik, an open source intelligence analyst who closely monitors Turkish ship and plane movements. “This is probably the limit that our planes can travel. It’s not executed just well, it’s executed exceptionally well.”
Video footage posted on the internet showed convoys of trucks full of GNA fighters from nearby Misrata and other cities heading to Abugrein, which lies about 90 minutes from Sirte. Turkish media reported the deployment of T-122 Sakarya multiple rocket launchers and Korkut anti-aircraft systems outside Sirte.
If Sisi meant his parliament-authorized threat of military intervention as a bluff, the GNA might be ready to call it. Analysts who spoke to the Independent described the invasion of Sirte as all but “inevitable,” held up primarily because Turkey is negotiating with Russian “mercenaries” to get them out of the way before the shooting starts.
If Egypt does not intervene or at least pressure the GNA and Turkey into accepting a cease-fire deal, the fall of Sirte could be the prelude to wiping out Haftar and his Tobruk-based shadow government entirely. If Egypt does intervene, the United Nations warned on Monday that over 125,000 civilians could be caught in the crossfire.
For its part, Turkey on Monday demanded an end to all support for Haftar and the LNA following a meeting with Libyan and Maltese officials.
“It is essential that all kind of help and support given to putschist Haftar – which prohibits ensuring Libya’s peace, tranquility, security, and territorial integrity — ends immediately,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar declared.