Support for Libya’s rebel leader General Khalifa Haftar has grown as a result of his claim that one of the key aims of his military campaign is prevent the country from falling into the hands of Islamist militias which have aligned themselves with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). Pictured: Haftar (right) meets with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on November 12, 2018 in Palermo, Italy. (Photo by Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to intervene militarily in the Libyan conflict not only raises the prospect of the conflict entering a new and more dangerous phase; it also promises to provide a significant boost for the Islamist militias that are vying to take control of the country and establish a Muslim Brotherhood-style government in Tripoli.
Mr Erdogan’s justification for sending Turkish troops to Libya, which has the backing of the Turkish parliament, is to provide support for Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, the head of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
The GNA is under enormous pressure as a result of the offensive being undertaken by General Khalifa Haftar, the rebel Libyan leader who, with the backing of Russia, France and the United Arab Emirates, has overrun large swathes of the country and is now attempting to seize control of the Libyan capital.
The strength of Gen. Haftar’s position was graphically demonstrated earlier this week when Haftar’s forces seized control of Libya’s vital oil production facilities on the outskirts of Tripoli, a move that has cut output to almost zero.
This move prompted Mr Serraj to warn that Libya faces dire consequences if the blockade is not lifted.
After the summit in Berlin called by German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the aim of establishing a ceasefire, Mr Serraj declared: “The situation will be catastrophic should it stay like this.”
The summit ended with neither of the warring parties agreeing to a ceasefire, and only giving their lukewarm support to international calls for an arms embargo to prevent any further escalation in the fighting.
Support for Gen Haftar has grown as a result of his claim that one of the key aims of his military campaign is prevent the country from falling into the hands of Islamist militias which have aligned themselves with the GNA.
Many of these groups have links with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist party that briefly — and disastrously — held power in neighbouring Egypt.
Among the Islamist groups backing the GNA is the al-Watan Party headed by Abedelhakim Belhaj, the former head of the self-styled Tripoli Military Council. Belhaj was the emir of the now defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an Islamist organisation that prevoiusly campaigned for the overthrow of former Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
The LIFG has been linked to the May 2017 Manchester Arena terrorist attack that killed 23 people during a concert given by the American singer Ariana Grande.
Belhaj has also been named on the list of Islamist terrorists drawn up by Saudi Arabia at the start of Riyadh’s diplomatic dispute with Qatar in 2017.
The concern now is that Mr Erdogan will use the failure of international mediators to end the fighting to intensify his support for the GNA, thereby strengthening the position of the numerous Islamist militias that are backing the UN-backed body.
Mr Erdogan was an ardent supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood when it held power in Cairo, and there is mounting concern, especially in Europe, that the Turkish leader has now set his sights on establishing a similar regime in Libya.
It can certainly be no surprise that the region’s most prominent supporters of the GNA are Turkey and the Gulf state of Qatar, both of which also happen to be committed backers of the Muslim Brotherhood. The only other country that is openly supporting the GNA is Italy, but that is only because its significant oil interests in Libya are located in GNA-controlled territory. France, by contrast, is backing Gen Haftar to prevent Islamist groups based in Tripoli from plotting terror attacks on the French mainland.
Turkey’s deepening involvement in the Libyan conflict is, therefore, a development that needs to be viewed with deep concern. In the absence of any serious international initiative to end the fighting, the most likely outcome of Turkey’s intervention could be the creation of another extremist Islamist regime on the shores of the Mediterranean.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph‘s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.
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