Libya: Stalemate Sliding Towards Checkmate



January 10, 2023: Turkey continues to maintain its military forces in Libya and thereby block efforts to hold national elections and bring an end to eleven years of civil war. The key problem is an illegal treaty signed by the Tripoli GNA government that granted Turkey some of Greece’s offshore oil and natural gas rights in an area between Libya and Turkey that ignores existing, and internationally recognized, claims on that area. Turkey and Greece are both NATO members and NATO backs Greece in this matter.

In early 2020 the Turks had sent enough troops to rescue the GNA (Government of National Accord), a failed UN and Moslem Brotherhood-backed government. The GNA failed to attract a national following and by late 2019 a local military leader with a locally recruited army of trained and better disciplined soldiers was doing what UN diplomacy and threats could not. The eastern force, the LNA (Libyan National Army) has been around since 2015, when it was formed in eastern Libya and proceeded to eliminate rivals, especially Islamic radical groups, throughout the country. In early 2019 all that the GNA had left was the traditional capital (Tripoli) and the nearby (to the east) coastal city of Misrata. Both cities are dominated by dozens of rival militias, many of them seeking an Islamic government but mainly looking out for themselves.

The LNA went after Tripoli in early 2019 and slowly pushed back the desperate militias, who would lose their independence and lucrative criminal enterprises if the LNA succeeded. The UN condemned the LNA and ignored Turkey shipping in weapons and military advisors to assist the GNA. By the end of 2019 Turkey was threatening to send in combat troops and warships to blockade Libyan ports. The Turkish support violated the UN arms embargo on Libya, as does the support Russia, Egypt, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and a few other countries have provided for the LNA. The LNA agreed to a ceasefire and national elections. The Turks and thousands of their Syrian Arab mercenaries are still there and are prepared to stay indefinitely. Egypt, for the first time in centuries, finds hostile Turkish troops next door and is not pleased.

Russia still has forces in Libya to support the LNA in eastern Libya. Russia no longer actively opposes the Turkish presence. Instead the Russian troops in Libya, which include a contingent of Wagner Group military contractors, maintain access to an airfield where transports from Russian can refuel before flying further south t0 Mali or CAR (Central African Republic) where Wagner has lucrative contracts with local governments to keep those governments in power. In CAR that includes the ability to take control of some very lucrative mining operations.

Combat in Libya has largely disappeared because of the stalemate imposed by the Turkish occupation forces.

January 5, 2023: In Egypt a conference between the two rival governments ended in an agreement to resolve differences over elections and hold those elections as soon as possible. The Tripoli faction was represented by the chairman of the High Council of State while the Tobruk faction sent the speaker of their parliament. This conference did not come up with a timeline, only that both sides would work out problems delaying national elections. That’s what everyone has been working on for over a year. The obstacle is the Turkish occupation force, which insists that its treaty with the Tripoli government over offshore water rights. Turkey needs Libya to affirm those righting so Turley has a claim on offshore petroleum and natural gas. Not what Libya produces, but potential underwater deposits in waters between Libya and Turkey. The Tripoli (GNU) government illegally signed an agreement with Turkey in order to get Turkish intervention. There is no united government of Libya so the GNU could not pledge Libya to support the Turkish claims. Greece and the UN as well as most NATO nations oppose Turkey on this issue. Turkey will protect its offshore exploration and extraction operations with its navy and air force. Turkey believes Greece won’t be able to get other NATO members to assist in blocking Turkish oil and natural gas operations in the disputed waters. Both Turkey and Greece are NATO members but the NATO agreement doesn’t cover a situation like this and the Turks are taking advantage of that. The UN believes this deadlock will lead to partition, with Libya becoming two nations. Each will have some of the oil but most will belong to the Tripoli faction.

January 4, 2023: The Central Bank reported that Libyan 2022 oil revenues were $22.2 billion. This is up about one percent over 2021 revenues. His oil income supports the Libyan population of seven million. About a third of the oil income goes towards salaries for 2.3 million government employees. That’s nearly all of the 2.4 million Libyans in the workforce. The rest of the oil income takes care of infrastructure and other essentials to keep Libya going. This includes hiring foreigners to do a lot of the work. There is also a lot of corruption, often at the expense of the government that only has oil income to disperse. Not all of the proceeds from oil sales reaches the government because the corruption occurs where the oil is produced and transported to seaside terminals for shipment to foreign customers. It’s been that way for over fifty years. Even while the A junior army officer, Moammar Kaddafi, took over in 1969 and controlled the government, the oil revenue and most of the corruption until 2011, when there was a rebellion and he was killed. For the last 12 years everyone has been fighting over the oil income. Before the discovery of oil, Libya was a very poor country, or just a region, with far fewer people, a status it had maintained for thousands of years.

December 29, 2022: Russia appointed a new ambassador to Libya and this one will support the Tripoli government rather than the one in Tobruk. Because of the unstable situation in Tripoli the new Russian ambassador will be temporarily based in adjacent Tunisia.

December 3, 2022: In a letter to the UN, Greece officially rejected the Turkey-Libya hydrocarbon memorandum. Greece maintains the Turkish-Libyan deal encroaches on the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) demarcation agreement between Greece and Egypt and therefore violates Greece’s sovereign rights. Egypt also opposes the Turkey-Libya deal. The Arab world condemns Turkish actions in Libya because it is a reminder of centuries of Turkish rule over Arabs. Turkey may have underestimated Arab hostility towards this new presence in Libya. This revives Arab memories of past Turkish treatment of Libya. The Turks first showed up there in the 1550s as the Ottoman Empire conquered the coastal towns and cities of what is now Libya. Eventually the Turks advanced inland but there was no real incentive to because south of the coast it was mainly desert and, before oil was discovered and developed in the 1960s, there was little of economic value down there. Empires have bills to pay and tend to keep their soldiers where the money is. Arabs believe the Turks are back for more plunder. From the 1550s to 1910 Libya was technically a province of the Ottoman Empire. In reality Libya was mainly run by local strongmen who were often Turks gone native. In 1911 Italy took advantage of the Turks’ weak control and invaded. By 1912 Italy controlled what is now Libya. The Italians sent in colonists and brought the industrial revolution to Libya. Italian rule ended in 1943 when Italy, an ally of Germany during World War II (1939-45), surrendered to the allies.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close