Turkey’s parliament has approved a request from president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to send Turkish troops to Libya, risking further escalation in an international proxy war that has engulfed the oil-rich North African state.
The year-long mandate gives Mr Erdogan the power to dispatch armed forces to prop up the ailing government of Libyan prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj.
While Mr Sarraj’s government of national accord is recognised by the UN as the legitimate authority in Libya, it has been struggling to fend off an offensive on Tripoli, the Libyan capital, by forces loyal to military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
Last week, Tripoli formally requested military support from Turkey to help it counter the assault by Gen Haftar, who controls most of the country and is backed by Turkey’s regional rivals Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as Russia.
Mr Erdogan had said previously that Turkey would do what it could to help the “legitimate government of Libya”, which he said was under attack from a “warlord”.
Thursday’s parliamentary motion, which was brought forward by several days, passed with the support of Mr Erdogan’s ruling party and its allies from an ultranationalist grouping. But it was opposed by the major opposition parties, including three that backed a motion that had paved the way for a Turkish military operation in north-east Syria in October.
Turkish officials have not specified exactly what type of military support they will provide to Tripoli. Speaking the day before the vote, Fuat Oktay, Turkey’s vice-president, suggested the dispatch of troops may not be necessary if the motion forced Gen Haftar and his supporters to back down.
But Mr Oktay also said that Turkey would send “the necessary number [of troops] whenever there is a need”.
Ankara has already sent drones and armoured vehicles to the Sarraj government, according to a recent UN Security Council report that found Turkey was one of several countries — along with Jordan and the UAE — that “routinely and sometimes blatantly” supplied weapons to parties in the conflict, in violation of a UN embargo on the supply of arms to Libya.
The increased Turkish support for the UN-backed government comes after hundreds of Russian forces from Wagner private security group have been fighting alongside Gen Haftar’s forces. There have also been reports in Libya that Turkey last month deployed fighters from a Syrian militia to the north African state.
However, an overt Turkish presence on the ground in the country would mark a significant escalation in the conflict and draw Ankara deeper into yet another foreign battlefield just months after it launched a contentious military operation in north-east Syria.
It also risks worsening regional tensions, with Ankara at odds with a series of nations across the eastern Mediterranean over drilling for hydrocarbons. On Thursday, Israel, Greece and Cyprus signed an agreement that will lay the groundwork for a gas pipeline that connects Israel’s offshore fields with Europe — and bypasses Turkey.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, Mr Netanyahu said the agreement furthered the “real eastern Mediterranean alliance, which is also economic, political and also adds to the security and stability of the region. It is not against anyone, but is for the values and the benefit of the citizens of our countries”.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have also become increasingly angered by what they view as Turkey’s meddling in the Arab world, from its perceived support for Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood to its intervention in north-east Syria and its backing of Qatar in a more than two-year dispute between rival Gulf states.
Egypt, which has long had deeply strained ties with Ankara, said it condemned the Turkish parliamentary vote “in the strongest terms”.
Cairo, which backs Gen Haftar, warned that any Turkish military intervention in Libya would have a “negative impact” on stability in the Mediterranean and accused Ankara of supporting terrorist organisations in the country.
Thursday’s vote came ahead of a planned visit to Turkey next week by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. While Mr Erdogan has forged increasingly close ties with Moscow in recent years, Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in the Libyan conflict, as well in the long-running civil war in Syria.