Turkey is strengthening ties with Libya in the face of regional opponents, from its willingness to deploy soldiers to signing a controversial naval agreement

Turkey, by signing agreements with the Tripoli government, from its willingness to deploy soldiers to signing a controversial maritime agreement, is seeking to bypass its regional opponents in Libya as well as in the eastern Mediterranean rich in hydrocarbons, according to analysts.

Ankara is one of the biggest allies of the Libyan National Accord government in Tripoli, and the relationship has been strengthened in response to an attack to take control of the Libyan capital, launched by the strongman in the east, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar since April.

As in Syria, the Libyan conflict has become a battle for influence between regional players, which are being fought by the fiercest opponents of Turkey, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, who support the Libyan National Army led by Haftar.

The issue arose again after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received Prime Minister of the Accord Government, Fayez Al Sarraj, in Istanbul on November 27 to sign military and naval agreements.

Anas Al Kumati, director of the Tripoli-based Sadiq Research Institute, said, “Turkey has found for itself a natural ally in the national reconciliation government.

They share the opponents themselves in different places, “he said, referring to the” commercial and political “reasons for the support that Ankara provides.

“Al Sarraj doesn’t have real power … It badly needs Turkish support to be a counterweight to Haftar”, added Alison Bargeter, Libya expert at Kings College.

And the maritime agreement – which divides a large part of the eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Libya – is especially important in view of the recent discoveries of large quantities of gas that have caused fleeing exploration between the border countries and international oil companies.

Greece responded angrily to the Turkish-Libyan agreement, expelled the Libyan ambassador and urged the United Nations to condemn the agreement.

Turkey is mainly exposed to sanctions imposed by the European Union on the back of oil and gas exploration ships off Cyprus, which Turkey does not recognize its government.

Analysts say the agreement is a response to Turkey’s exclusion by other countries in the region.

Earlier this year, the energy ministers of Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian Territories agreed to establish an “Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum” that doesn’t include Turkey.

“Turkey fears that it will be besieged from the southern side, in light of plans for a future gas pipeline linking Cyprus’ gas fields with European markets”, said Iggy Cechkin, an expert on Turkey at the IHS Markit Center.

He added, “The maritime borders that were drawn according to the agreement cover an area from southwestern Turkey to northeastern Libya, crossing the planned route of this pipeline”.

The Libyan National Accord government is the only international partner to support Ankara’s maritime borders.

“If Haftar wins the civil war in Libya, Turkey will find itself without any” bough “that sticks to it in the eastern Mediterranean”, Sitchkin said.

To cut the road to this outcome, Erdogan said earlier this week that he was ready to send soldiers if the Al Sarraj government requested it.

A UN report said last month that several countries violated the arms embargo on Libya since Muammar Gaddafi fell in 2011.

Jordan and the UAE are supplying Haftar weapons regularly, while Turkey supports the reconciliation government, according to the report.

Aircraft were spotted marching in the skies over Libya during this summer’s clashes.

Erdogan announced that Turkey may conduct patrols in the Mediterranean, and Szechkin considered that it could include the waters surrounding the Greek island of Crete.

Another factor, according to Sitchkin, is that Turkey considers Haftar the “Libyan version” of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi.

Erdogan had strongly supported the Muslim Brotherhood government that Al Sisi ousted in 2013.

Since then he has been among the fiercest opponents.

Haftar has previously ordered his forces to target Turkish companies and arrest Turkish citizens.

His forces briefly arrested six Turkish sailors in the summer.

Reports of the presence of Russian mercenaries in support of Haftar – which Moscow has so far denied – added a new element of risk to the reconciliation government.

Erdogan has announced that he doesn’t wish “the situation in Libya to lead to another Syria” as Ankara and Moscow stand on two different sides in the eight-year-old conflict despite joint efforts to end the war.