By Wang Yi, Li Ruijing and Wang Hailan
The Libyan National Army (LNA) launched offensives to overwhelmingly control Libya in April 2019 after gaining support from countries, including Russia, France, Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia, and captured 80 percent of its national territory. But the situation took a sharp downturn in November that year with the military intervention from Turkey in return for a memorandum between the Government of National Accord (GNA) and Turkish government. By June 2020, the GNA has retrieved several important cities and towns and pushed the frontline forward for more than 300km, and it is also aggressively planning for military offensives on a larger scale.
Turkey's aggressive intervention invoked strong dissatisfaction from the LNA-backing countries. Russia immediately dispatched more warplanes, France and UAE issued warnings to Turkey, and Egypt stationed large quantities of army armored troops and warplanes on the border region with Libya. In July, Egypt and Turkey held highly targeted military exercises separately. On July 14, Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) formally invited Egyptian military intervention, and on July 20, Egypt's parliament authorised the deployment of troops to Libya.
The Libyan civil war has lasted nearly a decade after the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, with more direct interference from countries out of the region in recent years. When the opposing parties were locked in a standoff in Sirte and al-Jufra at the end of June, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi warned that an attempt by Turkey-backed forces in Libya to attack the strategic city of Sirte would trigger an Egyptian military intervention.
At the moment, the GNA forces are so strong and well-equipped that it will probably keep pressing ahead to expand its control area, especially Sirte, an important province of petroleum production and transportation. Early this month, top Turkish military leaders, including the defense minister and chief of general staff, visited Turkey's military base in Libya to reaffirm their support for the GNA, and crossing of the red line by the GNA may be just a matter of time.
From Egypt's point of view, it has long had a row with Turkey on issues such as the Muslim Brotherhood Emblem and the delimitation in the Mediterranean. It has good reasons to send troops to Libya, whether to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood Emblem which it regards as a terrorist organization but has closer ties with Turkey, or to vie for resources and regional influence against Ankara. More importantly, once it dispatches troops, Egypt is sure to receive massive military and economic assistance from Arabian countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE, which is very important for the Sisi administration that's been deeply mired over recent years.
As far as military equipment is concerned, the Egyptian troops stand at no disadvantage against their Turkish counterparts. In recent years, Egypt has successively bought the Rafale fighter jet and Mistral-class amphibious assault ship from France, significantly strengthening its naval and air forces, and its army is now equipped with more than 1,000 M1A1 tanks as well as such advanced weapons as AH-64D Apache Longbow and Ka-52 Alligator Attack Helicopter. The Egyptian troops even display more advantages considering that they are fighting at their doorstep while the Turkish troops not only have to travel afar, but also fight on multiple fronts.
Therefore, the Libyan situation may once again see drastic changes with military interference from Egypt, and the possibility of direct military conflicts between Turkey and Egypt will be increased significantly. As more external forces step in, chances are rising that Libya may turn into the next Syria.