Libyan Complications

In his latest interview with Serbia’s most-watched private TV channel, Dr. Trifkovic looks at the renewal of tensions in Libya. [Translated from Serbian, abbreviated]


Q: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed that he is sending his country’s soldiers to Libya to support the Government of National Accord in its fight against the forces of Khalifa Haftar, which have renewed their offensive against the country’s capital. How will this impact the situation in Libya? Can it trigger off a wider Middle Eastern, or even global war?

ST:  There is no such danger, the Libyan conflict will remain under control. Two key outside powers which are potentially at odds here are Turkey and Russia. They are both motivated to avoid direct confrontation. The Turks therefore will be relying primarily on their Syrian jihadists as fighters: they are airlifting them right now from the Turkish-controlled zone in northwestern Syria via Turkey to Tripoli.

Q:  Some observers have predicted imminent armed clashes between Russia and Turkey?

ST:  It is not imminent at all. As we shall see in the weeks to come, on one side of the line we shall have a small number of Turkish military instructors, rather than frontline fighters. On the other side there will be some Russian mercenaries, who do not belong to the order of battle of the Russian Federation or its armed forces. In any event, the so-called Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli is a phantom institution, which is essentially reliant on the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Most key players in the region, except for Turkey—Russia, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and very notably Egypt, which borders eastern Libya—support Haftar. They all know that if some variant of the Muslim Brotherhood were to prevail in Libya, we’d have a similar situation to that with Morsi in Egypt five years earlier…

On the energy front Erdogan has overplayed his hand. If you look at the Turkish vision of the partition of Exclusive Economic Zones in the eastern Mediterranean between Ankara and Tripoli, which the Turks call “Exclusive Maritime Zone,” it is way too ambitious. It would mean that the Turkish and Libyan zones meet just southeast of Crete, thus cutting off the Levant from the rest, which is unfeasible. Israel adamantly opposes it, as well as Egypt, Lebanon, of course Greece as well as the Greek Cypriots, not to mention the United States. Turkey is trying to invoke a legally untenable claim that an “exclusive maritime zone” extends only from her contiguous land shores, thus excluding the [Greek] islands. This position is rejected by an overwhelming majority of countries and by all major powers, including the U.S. and the Russian Federation. It cannot and will not fly.

Q:  Is the Turkish President trying to stage a demonstration of power by sending troops to Libya? This coming weekend there will be a meeting of the warring parties in Berlin, which is to be attended by Germany, Russia, Britain, and Italy. Is it deliberate that he is sending troops to Libya just in advance of that meeting?

ST:  Yes, it is. If you alter a given state of play on the ground, but if you intend to make a gesture of de-escalation by subsequently restoring the status quo ante, then you can make it look like you have made a concession. In reality, you will have made some political capital out of nothing. Let me add an interesting detail which other commentators have overlooked: that [the GNA head Fayez] al-Sarraj is an ethnic Turk by origin. For the Turkish government, supporting Sarraj is a manifestation of its neo-Ottoman, neo-imperial strategy, which entails making a comeback to the old domains. Until the Italian invasion in 1911, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica—which comprise today’s Libya—had been ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Sarraj is a direct descendant of Anatolian landowners…

On the whole I think that the Libyan problem will be kept under control. All key players have a vested interest not to allow it to escalate. The Shiite Crescent, which extends from Tehran across Iraq and Syria to the southern suburbs of Beirut and the Hezbollah Country in southern Lebanon is far more likely to be the flashpoint of a new crisis…

Q:  Will the process of impeachment motivate Trump to start a new war?

ST:  No, he has no reason to fear that process. Now the ball is in the Senate court, where this politicized farce—staged by the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives—will be duly unmasked and ridiculed. The two acts of impeachment they have conjured have neither legal nor constitutional grounding.

Q:  Nancy Pelosi would beg to differ with you, Professor…

ST:  Nancy Pelosi had been reluctant regarding impeachment until she succumbed, to her discredit, to the wave of leftist populism which swayed the Democratic caucus in the House last fall. I hereby predict that Senate trial will collapse in the next two to three weeks, that Trump will be exonerated. He will end up with a lot of political capital resulting from the fact that it will be seen, urbi et orbi, that the Democratic Party has manipulated the institution of impeachment. From the very moment of Trump’s inauguration they were hell-bent on impeaching him and merely had been in quest of some probable cause. When the Mueller probe on the alleged Russian collusion failed to provide it, they pulled out the phone call to Zelensky. There will be no end to this, but it is in Trump’s favor that the economy is growing at over two percent, that unemployment is under three percent. At the end of the day, most Americans are not motivated to vote according to ideological blueprints but pragmatically—it’s still the economy...

Q:  Trump has experienced a major injustice in that he has not yet received the Nobel Peace Prize, unlike Obama who got it preventively, upfront…

ST: Listen, Donald Trump is perfectly aware that the neoconservative hawks would just love to push him into war against Iran, not least the Israeli lobby, which would like the Americans to pull their chestnuts out of the fire. I don’t think this will happen.

[Image via Novo Jutro]

Srdja Trifkovic

Srdja Trifkovic

Dr. Srdja Trifkovic, foreign affairs editor of Chronicles, is the author of The Sword of the Prophet and Defeating Jihad.

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