By Walid & Theodore Shoebat
“He shall have power over the treasures of gold and silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt; also the Libyans and Ethiopians shall follow at his heels.” (Daniel 11:43)
A bloody civil war is occurring in Libya, but in the horizon there is a European struggle for power in North Africa. With Italy and France pursuing their oil interests, Turkey deploying Syrian fighters, Russia using mercenaries and fighters from Sudan, and Germany brokering a peace process, it is safe to say that the Europeans are returning to North Africa and the old imperialisms are coming back with an explicit vengeance. Turkey’s pursuit of power in Libya is part of the aspiration of neo-Ottomanism. In the words of journalist Ahmed Aboudouh: “Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, seeks to revive these imperial traits in the Middle East.”
Turkey wants the natural gas in Libya while Russia has been backing the oppositional government of Khalifa Haftar and has been pursuing energy investments in the fractured country. A pipeline connecting Libya with Europe could be a future plan of Russia’s especially since Israel, Greece and Cyprus just agreed to build the Eastmed pipeline to supply Europe with natural gas, a potential competition to Russia’s objectives. What can be concluded from all this? Turkey, Russia, Germany, Italy and France are aiming for power in North Africa. When you look at both World Wars, Africa was central. Today, with Africa being so rich in resources, the focus on this continent is just as intense. In 1911, just three years prior to the outbreak of World War One, Germany and France competed over Morocco. Today, numerous superpowers are working like ants to establish their foothold in this gas and oil rich land. As competition for North Africa presaged the Great War, the escalating rivaling over Africa today as well foreshadows a future global conflict.
Libya is split between two competing governments. One is the Libyan National Army of Khalifa Haftar who is backed by Russia, France, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. The other is controlled by the Government of National-Accord (Al-Wefaq or the GNA) which is currently led by Fayez al-Sarraj and is recognized by the United Nations and backed by Turkey, Italy and the United States. Once NATO pulled out of Libya, a geopolitical chasm formed, and now nations that were once great powers in history are rivaling over influence and control.
Currently there is an intense rivalry between Turkey and Egypt over natural gas in Libya. Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based political analyst, explained:
“Erdogan believes that he needs the GNA to survive in order to try to legitimize Ankara’s claims to natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean … This agreement is designed not only to try to legitimize Ankara’s natural gas claims but to create a barrier to Cyprus, Egypt, and Israel jointly exporting eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe.”
In November of 2019, the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fayez al-Sarraj signed a military cooperation agreement and a separate deal on maritime boundaries that would hand over to Turkey drilling and pipeline rights over a large part of the Mediterranean Sea between Libya and Turkey. The agreement specifies that a number of the gas fields found in the Mediterranean a few years ago are no longer within Libya’s maritime zone, but instead belong to Turkey.
The deal has been to the ire of Greece, Cyprus and Israel who all see Turkey as encroaching on their Energy Triangle. This Energy Triangle consists of three gas fields, Tamar, Leviathan, and Aphrodite, which were discovered in 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively. These fields are extremely rich in this natural gas; around 40 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of it were found between Cyprus and Israel, a discovery that gave both countries a huge advantage in trade within the eastern Mediterranean. Substantial gas reserves have been discovered in the eastern Mediterranean and Erdogan, with Turkish economic strength and his own legacy in mind, envisions a joint Turkish-Libyan partnership for the extraction of this resource. Russia, like Turkey, sees the geopolitical importance of Libya. Jalel Harchaoui of the Clingendael Institute in The Hague made the correct observation that Russia viewed Libya as both a “commercial” and “geostrategic and symbolic” opportunity.
Erdogan made a two hour speech in Ankara in which he made it clear that the year 2020 will see Turkish drilling for natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean:
“We will start search and drilling activities as soon as possible in 2020 after issuing licenses for the areas”
Turkey’s drilling for natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean has exasperated Egypt, and for good reason, since the Egyptians have in their hands a huge source of natural gas. In August of 2015, the Zohr field was discovered, and it was estimated at 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and its production stood at 2.7 billion cubic feet per day at the end of 2019, bringing Egypt back to the export market. Turkey’s natural gas drilling seems to be bringing Egypt closer to her neighbors. On July 25, 2019, Egypt founded the East Mediterranean Gas Forum with the participation of seven countries: Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Israel and Palestine.
The forum’s goal is to establish a regional gas market that benefits the interests of its members by managing supply and demand. Maher Aziz, a member of the World Energy Council, explained: “Egypt already has an agreement with Cyprus to construct a pipeline. This means Egypt can reach Europe, especially since it has a surplus of natural gas that Europe, thirsty for energy, needs. It is normal for it to get its gas needs from Israel and Egypt.” He also said:
“The seven countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum share a vision of regional integration … This supports cooperation between them and not competition.”
On September 19 of 2018, Egypt and Cyprus signed an agreement to create a $1 billion undersea pipeline linking Cyprus’ Aphrodite gas field to Egypt’s gas liquefaction stations. And in February of 2018, a deal was made between the Israeli energy group Delek and the US based Noble Energy to supply 64 billion cubic meters (2.26 trillion cubic feet) of gas from Israel’s Leviathan and Tamar offshore fields to the Egyptian firm Dolphinus for over a 10-year period. The Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources stated that “Egypt’s strategy to become a regional energy center includes importing gas from several eastern Mediterranean countries, including Israel and Cyprus.” In January of 2020, Israel began pumping gas to Egypt, as we read in an article from the Wall Street Journal:
“As part of the estimated $20 billion deal signed between the Israeli, U.S. and Egyptian partners nearly two years ago, Houston-based Noble Energy Inc. and Tel Aviv-based Delek Drilling LP will supply 85 billion cubic yards of natural gas over 15 years from Israel’s Tamar and Leviathan fields to Egypt’s Dolphinus Holdings Ltd.”
Israel’s recent deal with Greece and Cyprus to build a gas pipeline from its natural gas field to Europe has been opposed by Turkey. It is possible that Egypt’s dealings with Israel, as well as its military’s overthrow of Mohamed Morsi — a Muslim Brotherhood operative and Turkish puppet — from the Egyptian presidency, could actually provoke a violent conflict between Turkey and Egypt. Turkey pushed for Morsi to become the president of Egypt but he was toppled by the Egyptian military and replaced by General al-Sisi who has ties to Russia. Turkey cannot use Egypt as a proxy state. This may lead to that misery of Egypt that the prophet Isaiah foretold, that will make the Egyptians “cry to the LORD because of the oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Mighty One, and He will deliver them.” (Isaiah 19:20).
That Israel is pumping natural gas to Egypt is quite remarkable, given that, in the words of Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, the deal is “the first of its kind and scope since the peace agreement was signed between Israel and Egypt 40 years ago”. Turkey’s deployment of Syrian fighters also may lead to Egypt being vulnerable to terrorist incursions. According to Muhammad Abdel Qader Khalil, an expert on Turkish affairs and Egyptian-Turkish relations at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, if the these jihadists “take control of the cities of eastern Libya, then they may carry out lightning operations inside the depths of Egypt, and then Egypt is exposed to great dangers, in addition to the costs incurred by Egypt due to securing the borders, all of which cause great pressure on Egyptian national security.” Mohamed Abdel-Kader, an Egyptian political researcher, gave a similar explanation:
“Egypt believes that Turkey wants to turn Libya into an arena for jihadi organizations, which it has sponsored in Syria, so this is the main source of tension between the two countries.”
Egypt recently sent troops to its border with Libya in what is being described as a defense against Turkish intervention. In the words of el-Dorar: “the Egyptian army announced sudden military moves near the Libyan border, in an escalating step against Turkish intervention”.
If Haftar manages to control all of Libya and vanquish the Government of National Accord, then Egypt’s current government would be safe with a Libya that is a full Russian proxy. But Haftar, in the words of Newsweek, is “now in charge of the vast majority of Libya’s territory in the name of Bayda-based Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives that has endorsed him”. Hence why Turkey has been supporting the opposition to Haftar (the GNA), in order to cultivate leverage. Turkey is obviously taking advantage of the fighting to send its military and jihadists into the country to gain a foothold in Libya. The natural gas deal that Turkey made with the GNA positions Ankara as an obstacle to the energy pursuits of Egypt. Hence why Erdogan declared: “Greece, Egypt, Israel and Cyprus will not be able to take any step without our consent, after we signed the memorandum of understanding with Libya”. Turkey’s energy objectives is about controlling Greece, Egypt, Israel and Cyprus.
To consolidate her power in Libya, Turkey has provided armored vehicles and drones to Sarraj’s government to help him fight against Haftar. Turkey also recently sent dozens of military advisers to Tripoli and has deployed up to 2,000 Syrian jihadists to support the Government of National Accord. There is, supposedly, a proxy war over Libya between Russia and Turkey who are currently the only seriously active countries in Libya. Both Turkey and Russia are using proxy fighters to fight each other, with Turkey using Syrian fighters and military advisors to back the Government of National Accord; and Russia using mercenaries, Sudanese fighters and arming and counseling the forces of Khalifa Haftar. Both sides have condemned the other for doing pretty much the same things. And both sides are intensifying the fighting between their proxies. “It’s possible that Haftar’s foreign backers will respond to Turkey’s increasing intervention by boosting their assistance to Haftar [and] escalating the war further,” said Wolfram Lacher, a Libya expert.
RUSSIA PLAYS BOTH SIDES IN LIBYA
When Haftar began his fight in 2014, Russia was playing both sides of the civil war in Libya, backing both the UN recognized government (the Government of National Accord or the GNA) and the opposing government of Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) who currently control much of Libya. When Russia had already been supporting the new government of Libya she already was, for a year, conducting a more discreet mission of building ties with Haftar in Tripoli.
The one who was acting as a mediator between the Kremlin and the Libyan rebel was Russian businessman, Lev Dengov. Russia hasn’t picked one side in Libya as she has done in Syria with Bashar al-Assad. Or in the words of Dengov: “We haven’t placed a bet on one player”. Russia stands as a major powerhouse within Libya in the midst of other nations such as Italy, France, Turkey and most recently, Germany. All of these countries are striving for power in their pursuit of resources under the eyes of the world’s current empire, the United States.
But the Americans have loosened their grip just slightly enough as to enable this swarm of great powers to rival over the rich materials of North Africa. President Donald Trump said in April 2017 that he did not see any role for the U.S. in Libya except for the defeating of ISIS. The Americans have been allowing their biggest ally in the Islamic world, Turkey, to consolidate its power in Africa, especially Sudan and Libya.
The Libyan government was concerned about the presence of too many foreign powers in its country and in 2018 the Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala said in an interview that the Tripoli government wanted Russia to take on a bigger role. “We want a balance between the external players,” he said. Russia’s ties to Libya can be traced back to when the Soviet Union had a close relationship to Gaddafi. In fact, Haftar was trained by the Soviet Union when he was a commander of Gaddafi’s military.
Putin sought to reinvigorate this relationship in 2008, the same year that Dengov began visiting Libya to commence his business enterprise. Through his numerous business projects, Dengov cultivated a good relationship with members of Gaddafi’s administration and some of those very officials are currently members of the two opposing governments within Libya. When NATO first bombed Libya, Russia did not express significant objections and the then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev even said that Russia was prepared to facilitate Gaddafi’s departure but insisted that Libya should remain as a single state. It was only when Gaddafi was murdered by rebels in 2011 that Russia made known her outrage.
In 2014, Haftar went on the warpath. He recruited soldiers from Qaddafi’s military and led a campaign which he described as a fight to purge out terrorists from the country. He strived for victory and eventually took the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Haftar’s strategy consisted of uniting a plethora of different militias to take control of a huge chunk of eastern Libya, including (and quite conveniently for France who is now backing Haftar) most of the country’s main oil-exporting ports.
In April of 2014, Haftar’s Libyan National Army commenced its war against the Tripoli-based government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Haftar’s forces have yet to reach central Tripoli but nonetheless they have gradually expanded to its suburbs. So far, the fighting around Tripoli has led to the deaths of 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters, and the displacement of at least 140,000 people, according to United Nations figures released in December of 2019.
By the end of 2014, Dengov became the head of a diplomatic outreach to Libya under the supervision of the Russian Foreign Ministry and Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of the mainly Muslim republic of Chechnya in southern Russia. Chechnya has played a significant factor in Russia’s operations in the Middle East, since Kadyrov has a large number of connections there.
Russian support for Haftar commenced once Dengov set up a meeting for a delegation led by Haftar’s son in Russia in 2015. In 2016 Russia even began printing money for the government allied with Haftar, regardless of the protests coming out of Tripoli. Haftar’s deepened ties with Russia were indicated by his visits to Moscow in both 2016 and 2017. But his relationship with Russia was not empty, as the Kremlin provided the rebel leader with what he needed more than anything: weapons. According to one US official, Russia provided Haftar’s fighters with weapons and military advisors. While Russia has denied this, an investigation by Al-Jazeera, which obtained documents and got exclusive interviews with GNA leaders, revealed otherwise. As we read in a report from Al-Jazeera:
“An Al Jazeera Arabic investigation has uncovered Egyptian, Russian and UAE arms support to Libya’s renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
The commander has – since April 4 – waged a months-long offensive against the UN-recognised, Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
The Point Blank investigative programme incorporated exclusive documents and interviews with GNA leaders who spoke about the complex workings of the three countries’ support for Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).”
As Russia helped to arm the rebel leader of east Libya, the United Arab Emirates utilized jets and drones to aid Haftar. The proxy war in Libya is even more evident by the reports of Russian mercenaries in Libya; these are guns-for-hire from the Russian Wagner security firm. Thousands of fighters from Sudan have joined these Russian mercenaries, as we read from the Guardian:
“Last month, the Guardian reported that an influx of 3,000 Sudanese had been sent to Benghazi to fight for Haftar, joining around 600 Russian mercenaries, in another sign the conflict’s parameters are growing.”
Meanwhile Turkey has deployed Syrian fighters into Libya to support Haftar’s enemy, the Government of National Accord. Claudia Gazzini, a senior Libya analyst with the International Crisis Group, explained:
“Letting Syrian proxies do the fighting means that Ankara can avoid its own troops potentially clashing with Russian mercenaries … The next question is – will [Russian President Vladimir] Putin continue to greenlight this? Or will Libya take a backseat if Russia and Turkey decide to prioritise their other overlapping strategic interests?”
But Russia’s support for Haftar made it difficult to cultivate ties with the Government of National Accord. “When we came to Tripoli, they said: ‘You are with Haftar,’” Dengov recalled. “We offered them friendship.” Frederic Wehrey, a Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explained that: “The Russians realized they have to diversify their contacts … They sense an opportunity to play the role of a power broker.”
The Russians have successfully used business as a means to consolidate influence within Libya (which, besides making money, the main reason why countries do major business enterprises with countries). To quote Dengov: “We can use business to build up relations”. Another line from Degov succinctly illustrates the link between geopolitics and commerce: “Political and economic links are inseparable”. These business relations were self-evident when Russian state oil giant PAO Rosneft started buying crude from Libya’s state oil firm in 2017. While Russia was supporting Haftar, a delegation of Libyan security-service officials visited Moscow to meet with Russian officials in April of 2018.
Mohamed Taha Siala the foreign minister of Libya, visited Russia in May of 2018 to attend an economic forum in St. Petersburg where he shared a platform with Dengov and encouraged Russian companies to invest in Libya. Siala did not show any concern for Russia’s support of Haftar but was really happy enough that Russia was investing in his country, an indication of how much Libya has been suffering under economic diminishment. “Anyhow we are happy now that Russia is giving the same footing of importance for all the Libyans and all the political players,” said Siala. As Russia supported Haftar, Dengov was meeting with tribes in the town of Ubari, in a lawless region of Libya, and convinced them to make an alliance with the government of Fayez al-Sarraj, which is opposition to Haftar’s government. Russia has been playing, and furthering interests, with both sides.
While Russia has played both sides in the conflict, she has also worked with Turkey to resolve the civil war between east and west Libya (supposedly). On January 12 of 2019 Russia brokered an uncertain ceasefire between the Libyan National Army and the Government of National Accord. The next day, Haftar and Sarraj met in Moscow to sign a cease-fire deal, but Haftar pulled out of the talks. Perhaps the Turks and Russians understood that a peace deal between the two was impossible, since Haftar is deeply mistrusted amongst his adversaries and he himself is obstinate to the point that he will leave a peace deal.
The belligerence of Haftar, alongside the fractioning of Libya and the fact that there are now two states in the country, indicate an absence of order from within. This leaves the role of order to outside powers that are more competent than local elements. It is chaos for civilians displaced from their homes, or who have to deal with bullets, but it is nonetheless an opportunity for Russia and Turkey to garner up power for themselves in the moribund and dark region. “Both Turkey and Russia would therefore have to shape the military landscape, which would require months of further, violent conflict,” said Wolfram Lacher.
GERMANY IN LIBYA
This leaves us to another major player in North Africa, one that is never described by established media as one interested in geopolitical expansion, and that is Germany. With Europe thirsty for natural gas, Libya has garnered a lot of attention from Germany, hence why it conducted its Berlin Conference which ended on January 19th of 2020. While Germany wants to mediate a peace process in Libya, she must take heed to the clout of Russia. Bijan Djir-Sarai, a German parliamentarian, admitted that when it comes to foreign policy, “today you have to call Moscow.” Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, another member of the Bundestag described German-Russian relations as “a treasure.” Putin declared that Russia is prepared to support the “Berlin-Process” which is important given Moscow’s edge over Berlin within the Middle East. As we read in a report from German Foreign Policy:
“Without Moscow, Berlin did not succeed in holding the International Libya Conference, which was designed to become the first highlight in the “Berlin Process.” In the run-up to Merkel’s Moscow visit, German foreign policy experts lavished unhabitual praise on the influence Russia has gained over the past few years.”
But Germany’s role in North Africa goes beyond natural resources and is focused on the Russian-Turkish proxy war taking place in Libya, which Germany sees as a potential causer for another wave of migrants to Europe. As the New York Times reports:
“For more than eight years, the Libyan conflict has festered and the European Union has mostly looked away. Libya mattered, if at all, as a playground for terrorism and a source of the migrants disrupting European politics.
But with the recent involvement of Russia and Turkey on opposite sides of a nasty civil war, adding to the meddling of other neighbors, Europe has suddenly woken to the implications of a new Great Game, this time in North Africa, that is rapidly destabilizing its backyard. Belatedly, the Continent is paying attention.”
Ian Lesser, director of the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund and an expert on Turkey and the Mediterranean, pointed out:
“There has been a major reawakening of geopolitical interest in Libya … That begins with issues of migration, energy, security and counterterrorism,” he added. “But it is just as much about the geopolitics of relations with Russia and Turkey. If they had not been so assertive, Libya would not have attracted such attention now.”
The European Union’s new policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, even affirmed that the EU could send troops into Libya to protect the peace process:
“If there is a cease-fire in Libya, then the E.U. must be prepared to help implement and monitor this cease-fire — possibly also with soldiers, for example as part of an E.U. mission”
Turkey’s and Russia’s military involvement in Libya has pushed Germany to jealously. Germany wants to assert herself as a world military power and she cannot pursue this aspiration if she merely watches Russia and Turkey expand their geopolitical leverage. Kristina Kausch, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, said: “Russia and regional powers are playing Europe in our own neighborhood”. Borrell echoed this view:
“We Europeans, since we don’t want to participate in a military solution, we barricade ourselves in the belief there is no military solution … Nobody will be very happy if, on the Libyan coast, there is a ring of military bases from the Russian and Turkish navies in front of the Italian coast.”
An oil pipeline between Libya and Europe appears to be on the horizon, and Russian energy interests are definitely involved. Tarek Megerisi of the European Council on Foreign Relations, explained this:
“Russian influence started first and foremost on gas and oil infrastructure … If a situation unfolds whereby Russia and Turkey make peace, and Russia makes heavy investments in oil and gas infrastructure in Libya, that means that’s one more pipeline into Europe that’s in the hands of Russians … That’s quite dangerous.”
Germany and Russia have been fixated a lot on energy ties, hence why they have been so adamant about finishing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline connecting Russia with Germany. It appears that Germany has an interest beyond peace in Libya, and that is taking oil and gas from Libya with the help of Russian energy investments in the region. We cannot talk about Germany’s recent foreign policy pursuits without bringing up Brexit. Now that Britain is leaving the EU, that means that one of the Bloc’s biggest power players will no longer be an obstacle to German objectives. Germany is, thus, changing her foreign policy dynamics, pursuing a plan that will put her in a stronger position in the world. To quote Jordanian journalist Saleh al-Baydani:
“Britain was leading the locomotive of the European Union’s foreign policy, and as it left the European Union, Germany sought to play this role, which explains the diplomatic movement witnessed in Berlin over the Libyan file.”
With the US allowing Turkey to expand its power in the Middle East, and with Britain leaving the EU, it appears the Anglosphere is loosening its grip on the Middle East and Europe, thus enabling a German-Turkish power revival.