Egypt’s president calls top security meeting over Libya

Egypt’s president calls top security meeting over Libya
Egypt’s president calls top security meeting over Libya

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Egypt’s president on Thursday summoned the country’s highest security body to a rare to meeting to review threats arising from “outside military intervention” in Libya - a thinly veiled reference to Turkey’s intention to send troops to the North African nation.

While significantly short of a declaration of war, the language used in a brief statement suggested that Egypt intended to do much more now to support ally Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whose Libyan National Army (LNA) forces are fighting a UN-backed, Tripoli-based government that Cairo says is beholden to militant groups.

The LNA has fought its way to the outskirts of Tripoli in a campaign that began in April, but it does not seem to have the military muscle to smash through the defences of the militias allied with the “National Accord” government in the capital.

Thursday’s meeting of the National Security Council, according to the statement, “adopted a package of measures on all levels to counter any threat to Egyptian national security.”

It did not say what those measures would be, but President Abdel Fatah El Sisi has repeatedly warned in recent weeks that Egypt would not tolerate foreign domination of Libya.

"What takes place in Libya," he has said, "impacts on Egypt’s national security."

He, however, said Egypt had no intention of sending troops to Libya.

Egypt shares a 1,200-km desert border with Libya, an energy-rich North African nation that has been plunged into chaos and civil strife since a 2011 uprising toppled and killed dictator Muammar Gadhafi. Egypt blames Libyan-based militants for a series of deadly attacks in recent years against its security forces and minority Christians travelling to remote desert monasteries near the Libyan border.

It has on occasion announced airstrikes against militants in eastern Libya, including a series of strikes following the 2015 beheading by ISIS of 21 Egyptian Christians.

Egypt has been secretive about the extent of its support to Mr Haftar’s forces, but it is believed to have advisers on the ground and providing locally made armored vehicles and light arms.

Thursday’s statement followed reports that Turkey intended to transfer militants from Syria to fight alongside the militias in Tripoli.

Last Friday, Bloomberg reported that Ankara would send an ethnic Turkmen rebel group from Syria’s northeast and naval warships to defend the Libyan capital, while the Turkish military would provide support and training.

Mr El Sisi has been discussing Libya with foreign leaders in recent days, including US President Donald , Russian leader Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

There has been little said about the substance of these talks, but the language used in presidential statements in Cairo suggests that Egypt was rallying support among major international players for the actions it intends to take in Libya to stop Turkey from gaining a military foothold there.

On Thursday, Mr Trump warned his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan against any "foreign interference" in Libya.

In a telephone call, Mr Trump "pointed out that foreign interference is complicating the situation in Libya".

Egypt has another key interest in foiling Turkish plans in Libya.

A recent maritime agreement between Ankara and Tripoli’s government, dismissed as illegal by Cairo and others, significantly expanded Turkey’s continental shelf.

This infringed on Egypt’s ambitious plans with Cyprus, Greece and Israel to turn the region into a global energy hub after the discovery of natural gas there in massive quantities in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey has been unhappy that it was left out of these plans and has been trying to force itself into the scheme.

It has explored for gas off the shores of Cyprus, of which Turkey has occupied a third since 1974 when it invaded after a short-lived, Greek-inspired coup.

The EU imposed sanctions on Turkey for drilling for gas in the water off Cyprus, which is a member of the bloc.

Updated: January 2, 2020 11:55 PM

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