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Libya aviation and marine risks

Six Turkish citizens, who were held by the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), were freed on 1 July, according to an unconfirmed report by a Turkish foreign ministry official speaking to the media. Turkey had called for the immediate release of its six citizens on 30 June, warning that the LNA would become a "legitimate target" if they were not released immediately. Unconfirmed Libyan media reports claimed that the six Turks were part of a high-ranking intelligence team operating in Libya in support of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), reports that were denied by the Turkish authorities.

The Turkey-LNA diplomatic dispute started on 28 June, when the LNA General Command issued orders to its air force to "target Turkish ships operating in Libyan territorial water" and announced that all flights to and from Turkey would be suspended. The LNA also issued orders to its ground forces to "target all Turkish strategic targets such as companies and projects, all considered legitimate targets". The LNA alleges that Turkish military support was a key factor in enabling the GNA to retake on 27 June the strategic town of Gharyan, 60 kilometres south of Tripoli and the LNA's forward base for its ongoing offensive aiming at capturing the capital city. IHS Markit considers the GNA allegation to be credible.

Significance

Even if the reports about the release of the six Turks are confirmed, the LNA is likely to follow through with its threat in respect of ships and aircraft, as almost all Turkish commercial projects in western Libya were halted following the 2011 popular uprising. As a result, there will be a severe risk of airstrikes targeting Turkish aircraft, suspected of supplying weapons to the GNA, when parked or landing at Tripoli Mitiga and Misrata airports, as well as Turkish ships entering Libyan territorial waters and calling at Khoms, Misrata, and Tripoli seaports. For its part, Turkey is likely to respond by increasing its military support to GNA and allied forces, including further deliveries of attack unmanned aerial vehicles and armor.

A key indicator of more direct Turkish involvement in Libya would be the deployment of its soon-to-be-acquired S-400 missile defense system in Tripoli, or direct engagement of Turkish Special Forces in ground combat. An indicator of decreasing risk would be a Turkey's public commitment not to support either warring side in Libya.

Posted 03 July 2019 by Ege Seckin, Principal Analyst, Country Risk, IHS Markit and

Ludovico Carlino, Senior Analyst, Country Risk – Middle East and North Africa

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