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Hidden agenda? Turkey's naval ambitions create chaos in Libya

Hidden agenda? Turkey's naval ambitions create chaos in Libya

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Politics The Truth

Wednesday 9 August 202305:10 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

قصة قطع تركيا أرزاق خمسة آلاف عائلة ليبية

A sudden decision made by the Libyan Government of National Unity, under the leadership of Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, to hand over the sea port of Al Khoms to Turkish forces operating in the western region of the country has sparked anger among the local population there. Meanwhile, there has been a notable silence from the General Commander of the Libyan National Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and a sense of anticipation from Egyptian authorities.

Residents of Al Khoms have adamantly rejected Dbeibeh's decision to surrender the city's port, along with its basin, to be integrated into the naval base utilized by Turkish maritime forces as a military outpost in Mediterranean waters. They have called on Dabbah to reconsider what they view as an "arbitrary decision", as it will cut off the livelihoods of five thousand families. The locals argue that the Al Khoms port primarily serves commercial purposes and is not intended for military use.

Local protests

Local media reports have documented the outbreak of protests at Al Khoms sea port, with demonstrators vehemently opposing its handover to the Turkish-controlled base as directed by Dbeibeh. The protests led to the closure of the coastal road leading to the capital city, Tripoli, as locals burned car tires in protest against the decision to evacuate the port and integrate it into the naval base where the Turkish forces are stationed.

For its part, Dbeibeh's administration formally requested all entities present at the maritime port of Al Khoms to vacate the premises as an initial step towards integrating it into the Turkish-controlled naval base. Simultaneously, the commander of the Coast Guard in the western region issued an official directive to the port director of Al Khoms, explicitly requiring the swift removal of all vessels, cranes, and maritime equipment from the port area in alignment with Dbeibeh's directive.

These demonstrations have coincided with the appointment of Mohammed Takala as the successor to Khalid Al-Mishri as the head of the High Council of State, headquartered in the capital city of Tripoli. Takala, a 57-year-old native of Al Khoms, has assumed the presidency of the council, located about 200 kilometers east of the capital Tripoli.

Why did Dbeibeh agree to the handover of Libya's Al Khoms sea port to the Turkish-controlled naval base?

Haftar's silence

There hasn't been any official response from the Libyan National Army, which is stationed in the eastern part of the country and led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, regarding the sudden decision taken by the Government of National Unity, headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh. Meanwhile, a military source, who preferred not to be identified, stated to Raseef22 that the undisclosed interaction between Haftar and Ankara has limited his freedom to denounce Turkey's seizure of the port and its naval base.

It's important to note that Ankara used this base to launch attacks on Haftar's forces and prevent their advance towards the capital, Tripoli, in 2019, during a failed war aimed at liberating the city from the grip of the armed militias controlling it.

Anticipation from Egypt

According to an Egyptian official, speaking exclusively to Raseef22, this Turkish move isn't conducive to expediting the process of normalizing Turkish-Egyptian relations. The official pointed out that Egypt's stance stresses the need for Turkey's military withdrawal from Libya.

The official, who wished to remain anonymous, commented, "Such actions raise doubts about Turkey's intentions and cast a shadow over the upcoming summit between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi."

Warnings of a Catastrophe

The Dbeibeh government has chosen to remain silent in response to warnings issued by Nasser Ammar, the commander of the backup forces of the army in operation "Volcano of Wrath". Ammar's concerns revolve around the presence of eight containers filled with lanthanum gas at Al Khoms port for several months.

Ammar had recently sounded an alarm about a potential catastrophe taking place, similar to the Beirut port explosion three years ago, if this shipment leaked or exploded, stressing the urgency for relevant authorities to go to port and address the issue before any harm is done.

The Turkish naval forces are utilizing the port as a base, operating under the cover of training forces aligned with the Dbeibeh government. It's worth of note that the Turkish military provides training and military consultations to these forces as part of a security and military cooperation memorandum signed by Ankara in 2019 with the previous Government of National Accord, led by Fayez al-Sarraj.

The Turkish Ministry of Defense has made a habit of releasing photos showcasing the Joint Maritime Training Center in the Libyan city of Al Khoms. This center trains Libyan personnel in tasks such as base defense, underwater operations, mine clearance, maintenance, amphibious commandos training, and the operation of warships, in an attempt to conceal Turkey's occupation of Al Khoms base.

Previously, the Anadolu Turkish news agency quoted Colonel Taner Vural, the commander of the Joint Maritime Training Center in the Al Khoms base, stating that their mission is to provide training services and military consultations to help Libya establish a professional army in line with modern international standards. He noted that around 900 members of the Libyan navy have undergone training at the center since its establishment, covering a range of expertise across 75 areas.

Could Turkey's recent actions in Libya disrupt the anticipated summit between Erdogan and Sisi?

Establishing a strategic foothold

Turkey has previously sought to leverage the Al Khoms maritime port's strategic location on the Mediterranean Sea. This port, ranked among Libya's top ports, was intended to bolster Turkey's influence in the Eastern Mediterranean and establish a foothold in the region.

Additionally, Turkey aims to exploit its control over the western Libyan ports for political gains, affording it leverage in both regional and international conflicts within the Eastern Mediterranean.

The city of Al Khoms has been a focal point for Turkish military activities. However, its strategic significance to the Turkish side has grown in light of Turkey's aspiration to expand its exports to Libya.

Situated in northwestern Libya, the sea port lies just 2.5 kilometers west of the city of Al Khoms itself. This location is approximately 120 kilometers east of the capital, Tripoli, and serves as a pivotal facility and port.

As per the Libyan Ports Authority, the port boasts natural depths conducive to shipping and easy access to the main coastal road connecting Al Khoms and Tripoli. Furthermore, its proximity to the iron and steel complex in the city of Misrata, as well as the cement factories in Al Khoms, reduces transportation costs. Its closeness to the historic city of Leptis Magna and Villa Silene also bolsters the port's allure from a tourism perspective.

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