by F. William Engdahl, New Eastern Outlook:
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has clearly decided to launch an offensive on multiple fronts, taking advantage of what he clearly perceives as a geopolitical vacuum. From his recent call to Islamic prayer at the Haga Sophia in Istanbul, to his breaking of the arms embargo to back the Tripoli regime against the advance of General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army in the East, from continuing military presence inside Syria to refusal to stop drilling for oil and gas in waters off Cyprus, as well as actions in Africa, Erdogan is clearly in an aggressive mode. Is there a larger strategy behind all this, far more than as a diversion from domestic Turkish economic problems?
In recent weeks the Erdogan government has made aggressive moves on multiple fronts that have led many to question their overall aims. In Libya Turkey’s Erdogan has boldly made moves to give arms, soldiers and other support to the embattled Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli of Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj.
In December 2019, Erdogan signed a military cooperation pact with the UN-recognized and highly unstable Tripoli government to counter the offensive mounted by Gen. Haftar’s Libyan National Army, based in the oil-rich east of Libya.
On June 7 the Cirkin, a Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship, sailed from Turkey to the Libyan port of Misrata. It was joined by three Turkish warships, leading France and others to believe it was smuggling arms to Tripoli to fight Haftar, a violation of the UN arms embargo. When a Greek (NATO) helicopter sought to board Cirkin to check if arms were being smuggled, the Turkish warships refused, leading a French (NATO) frigate, Courbet, part of a NATO maritime security operation, to approach the Cirkin. Turkish warship radar immediately light up the Courbet with its targeting radar forcing the Courbet to withdraw and the Cirkin landed in Libya. France has filed an official complaint with NATO about the Turkish (NATO) hostile actions. The details remain murky and chances are NATO will try to keep things quiet rather than force a rupture within the alliance.
Significant to note is that Haftar’s military move on Tripoli to end the division of the country is backed by Russia, UAE and Jordan. Since the US-initiated Arab Spring series of destabilizations from Egypt to Tunisia to Libya and, so-far unsuccessfully, in Syria, Libya has since been ravaged by tribal wars following the assassination of Muammar al-Qaddafi in October, 2011.
The most recent Turkish move in May enabled the GNA and Turkish-backed troops to destroy the LNA’s air defenses in Watiya air base, including a Russian Pantsir-1 battery ad with support of Turkish troops, to take control of the key base. When Russia reportedly transferred six warplanes from Syria to Libya in response, Erdogan threatened to bring Turkish Air Force warplanes over to bomb Haftar’s troops.
At the same time Erdogan has been in negotiations with Algeria to sign a defense pact with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. GNA control of al-Watiya not only puts a stop to Haftar’s use of the facility to mount air raids on GNA forces in Tripoli. It also gives Turkey a strategic base for building up a military presence in Libya.
Algeria’s newly-elected president Abdelmadjid Tebboune, unlike his predecessor, is significantly dependent on unofficial backing from the Algerian Muslim Brotherhood. Mass demonstrations in 2019 forced the anti-Muslim Brotherhood president , Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to resign.
Another key ally of Erdogan in the region is Qatar, which was sanctioned by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Sunni states over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Qatari al-Jazeera TV has been called a Muslim Brotherhood mouthpiece. On the weekend of July 18, Erdogan’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar met Qatari Emir, Prince Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani. They reportedly discussed moving Somali Jihadist fighters, trained in bases in Qatar, into Libya to take part in a Turkish planned major assault on Sirte. A recent Pentagon report estimated that Turkey has already sent between 3,500 and 3,800 paid Jihadist fighters to Libya from Syria to strengthen the GNA’s army.
The Israeli Debka.com notes the significance of the Turkish military moves with Tripoli and Algeria: “If Erdogan succeeds in harnessing Algeria to the Libyan GNA, which is already tied to the Turkish chariot, he will be able to shift the balance of power in a broad, volatile region. His military gains in Libya already bring him into position to impact the security of its North African neighbors – not least, Egypt – as well as Mediterranean navigation between that continent and southern Europe and the offshore oil projects in between.”
Erdogan and the Muslim Brotherhood
Much of the recent alliance strategy of the Erdogan regime since Turkey broke its peaceful relations with neighbor Syria in 2011 and began backing various Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups to topple the Assad regime, makes more sense when the ties of Erdogan to the highly-secretive Muslim Brotherhood are understood.
In an interview with Russia -24 TV in March, Syrian President Bashar al Assad stated openly that Erdogan was Muslim Brotherhood, who put the global agenda of that terrorist organization above that of his own country. Assad stated, “At a point in time, the United States decided that secular governments in the region were no longer able to implement the plans and roles designated to them…They decided to replace these regimes with Muslim Brotherhood regimes that use religion to lead the public…This process of “replacement” started with the so-called Arab Spring. Of course, at the time, the only Muslim Brotherhood-led country in the region was Turkey, through Erdogan himself and his Brotherhood affiliation.“
Erdogan had openly greeted the ascendency of Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, pledging five billions in aid. Then a Saudi-backed military coup ousted the Brotherhood and brought General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to power, much to the displeasure of the Obama Administration and Erdogan. Since then el-Sisi has imposed a severe ban on Muslim Brotherhood activism in Egypt, executing countless leaders and driving others into exile, many reportedly to Erdogan’s Turkey. Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Jordan and Bahrain have also banned the MB, accusing them of trying to topple their Monarchies. This creates a massive geopolitical fault line across the Arab world.