When the presidents and prime ministers of leading states in Berlin discuss Libya on Sunday, one of the key figures will be Recep Tayyip Erdoğan his. That is new. Up until now, Libya had not thought of Turkey, and secondly Erdoğan was pretty much alone in the region until recently.
The Turkey had crumbled over the years with almost every country in the Middle East. The Arab regimes don't trust Erdoğan because of his support for Islamists in the Middle East. Ankara is arguing with Greece and Cyprus over natural gas and maritime law. Erdoğan has been in constant contact with Israel for more than ten years. The relationship with Iran is distant, in Syria there is conflict. Only Qatar and Hamas in Gaza are the Turkish president's best friends.
By jumping to Tripoli, Erdoğan has not improved any of these relationships, but has given himself a lot of freedom. With the Libyan presidential council chairman Fajes al-Sarradsch, he agreed on military support and the dispatch of army advisers to Tripoli. Erdoğan has used a minimum of funds and made a weak new friend. Suddenly he is in a good position on the east Mediterranean Sea, He will benefit from this in three areas.
At Angela Merkel's major Libya conference in Berlin, Erdoğan is likely to be a sought-after interlocutor who is the government recognized by the United Nations Libya militarily strengthens. Turkey is helping, the story goes, the legitimate leadership and not the aggressive rebel general Chalifa Haftar, who wants to overthrow the government. On Monday in Moscow, Sarraj signed the ceasefire agreement, but Haftar did not. Erdoğan campaigns for himself to stand on the side of the supposedly good and not the supposed attackers. This will keep him in the big game for Libya. It will also influence an important country through which refugees come to the EU.
In Sarradsch, Erdoğan has gained a strategic partner in the Mediterranean in the energy sector. This is not about Libyan oil, but about gas in the eastern Mediterranean. Erdoğan plans to thwart Israel, Greece and Cyprus's plans to produce natural gas. The three countries agreed to build a pipeline from Israel's gas reserves to Greece past Turkey in early January.
Foreign policy as a generator of domestic political approval
Erdoğan, who also claims natural gas fields far from the Turkish coasts, has agreed the counter-deal with Sarradsch: They divided considerable parts of the eastern Mediterranean into economic zones between the two countries. Suddenly, Turkey is no longer alone with its expansive claims, which are not covered by maritime law. This reinforces the Turkish ambition to dominate the eastern Mediterranean. Greece
has therefore already with one Blockade of a European peace agreement for
Libya under threat,
In Turkey itself, Erdoğan scores with his recent foreign policy successes. For him it comes as a call. Unofficially, unemployment has reached new highs. Food prices are causing problems for the population. The ruling AKP party loses its approval. Renegade AKP politicians want to found a new party this spring. Everything is not good for Erdoğan.
That is why Turkish state television reports around the clock on the successes of the President far out in the Mediterranean. Just as it reported on the Turkish military operation in northern Syria in October. It is reminiscent of Russian television. The Moscow channels broadcast extensively President Putin Heroic deeds in the world as Russia's economic problems shrink to footnotes in the reporting.
For Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, foreign policy has long since become a generator of domestic political approval. Europe should adapt to this. Libya will not have been his last surprising leap.
Michael Thumann was Mercator-IPC Senior Fellow in Istanbul from October to December 2019.