On Monday, Egypt’s parliament authorized the deployment of troops outside the country after the Egyptian president threatened military action against Turkish-backed forces in neighboring Libya. This move is likely to destabilize the oil-rich but war-torn Libya even further.
The parliament unanimously approved “the deployment of members of the Egyptian armed forces on combat missions outside Egypt’s borders to defend Egyptian national security… against criminal armed militias and foreign terrorist elements,” according to a statement.
Egypt’s House of Representatives, where Sisi has very strong support, approved the president’s deployment threat during a closed-door session where representatives lamented about their border region shared with Libya.
Egypt’s state-run Al-Ahram news agency reported on Sunday that the parliament’s vote was needed for President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to “intervene militarily in Libya to help defend the western neighbor against Turkish aggression.”
The move could bring Egypt and Turkey, which support rival sides in Libya’s chaotic proxy war, into direct confrontation. If that happens, the United States would be placed in the middle as it has been close allies with both sides.
President el-Sissi has called the strategic coastal city of Sirte a “red line.” He warned that any attack on the city, which sits near Libya’s main oil-export terminals and fields, would prompt Egypt to intervene to protect its western border.
“Egypt will spare no efforts to support the sister Libya… to overcome the current critical crisis,” the Egyptian president said in a statement on Sunday.
Egypt does not have a lot of experience operating beyond its borders. It is also facing increasing Islamist extremism in the Sinai. A move of this magnitude would severely hamper their logistical and operational limits. Turkish drones could severely interfere with Egypt’s long supply lines and Egyptian air force would be hampered as well.
Turkish-led forces crushed the Libyan National Army’s (LNA’s) offensive. The offensive, which had begun nearly a year ago, had reached the outskirts of Tripoli, the Libyan capital. With Turkish support and airpower, the Government of National Accord (GNA), threw back the LNA in a matter of weeks. It is now threatening to take the important coastal city of Sirte as well as the inland airbase of Jufra.
The GNA denounced Egypt’s threat of military intervention into their territory, calling the threat a “declaration of war.” Sirte is located 500 miles from the Egyptian border. Libya’s most important crude export terminals lie in between. Libya is among the most oil-rich countries in the Middle East and the world.
Libya has been in constant civil war since the 2011 removal and death of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. France, Russia, U.A.E., and Egypt back Haftar’s forces, which assume an anti-Islamist stance. Qatar and Turkey, which is pushing a political Islamist stance and is a heated rival of Egypt, are backing the GNA in Tripoli.
The civil war has escalated into a proxy war as each of the foreign powers continues to push weapons and mercenaries into the country. The Russians have committed mercenaries from the Wagner Group who were accused of sowing landmines and IEDs around Tripoli. Russia was also accused by Washington of sending 14 advanced MiG-29 aircraft to Libya through Syria.
President Donald Trump spoke with el-Sissi on Monday before the Egyptian Parliament’s vote. El-Sissi said that Egypt’s aim is to “prevent further deterioration of security in Libya,” according to a statement from an Egyptian spokesman. And that both two leaders want a ceasefire and the avoidance of military escalation in Libya.
On Monday, however, the Turks demanded an “immediate” end to the support for General Haftar in Libya after a meeting in Ankara between officials from Turkey, Malta, and Libyan GNA reps.
“It is essential that all kind of help and support given to putschist Haftar — which prohibits ensuring Libya’s peace, tranquillity, security, and territorial integrity – ends immediately,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said.
Haftar’s backers have to “stop supporting an unrealistic and wrong project,” the U.N.-recognised GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga said.
Stephanie Williams, the acting head of the U.N. support mission in Libya, demanded that both sides and their foreign proxies pull back from the brink, “to spare the 125,000 civilians who remain in harm’s way.”