Egypt raises army readiness in anticipation of Libya showdown with Turkey

The Egyptian army launched, on Thursday, a large-scale military exercise dubbed “Hasm 2020” in the western region near the border with Libya. Various types of advanced battle equipment were used and tested in preparation for what could be an imminent intervention in Libya.

This step reinforces expectations that the Egyptian army has decided on the military option in dealing with the Libyan crisis, after Turkey's interventions and threats have created a situation that is difficult to accept in a neighbouring country which represents a vital strategic depth for Egyptian national security.

Cairo used to give names to military operations and manoeuvres that have clear indications and implications for the tasks required. Two years ago, it dubbed its military campaign against terrorist groups in Sinai “The Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018”, which in fact did wipe out the military capabilities of these groups.

The Egyptian leadership has intensified its military moves on the country’s western front to fill in the void that had been in place for decades, considering that this region did not represent a direct security threat, while the northeastern front was considered the main source of security threats for decades.

The Army’s latest military equipment turned out to be well-suited for the type and scale of the challenges created in the western region after Turkey’s deliberate moves to drown Libyan territory with thousands of terrorists, extremists and other mercenaries specifically dispatched from Syria for the purpose of creating chaos in Libya. This has posed an imminent threat to Egypt’s security, which has long suffered from the infiltration of such elements inside Egyptian lands.

Cairo began taking swift and resolute steps regarding the fast-evolving developments in Libya after it has become clear that Turkey was reinforcing its military presence there and claiming that it came to Libya to stay, which is unacceptable from the standpoint of Egypt’s national security in the western region.

Egypt’s largest military base in the western region is Muhammad Naguib Base, which was inaugurated three years ago. A naval base (Jarjour) is being prepared in the Mediterranean area adjacent to the Libyan border, and the pace of military manoeuvres has accelerated in anticipation of any surprises that may come from Libya.

The latest developments and transformations within the Egyptian military forces reflect recent changes in the Egyptian military doctrine and its reliance on advanced technology in securing Egyptian borders. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with officials of the Egyptian army's signal corps and the Minister of Communications a few days ago, to confirm technical readiness in the western region.

Speaking at the United nations Security Council on Wednesday, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sameh Shoukry, said that the situation in Libya represents a serious threat to stability and security throughout the region, pointing out that the contradictory visions for Libya's future and aspirations of regional hegemony of certain foreign parties have complicated efforts to restore security and prosperity to Libya.

Major General Alaa Ezzedine, former director of the Centre for Strategic Studies of the Egyptian army, told The Arab Weekly that the Egyptian exercises and manoeuvres are continuing at all levels, from small units to field armies, ever since Ankara set its foot in Libya.

He explained that the military exercises were planned, and some of them were commissioned by senior leaders to raise the army’s preparedness and test the capabilities of the forces that may participate in operations inside or outside Egyptian borders.

He added that Turkey's continued mobilisation of militia forces near Sirte is pushing the Egyptian armed forces to raise the maximum readiness of the forces, and that defining the Sirte-Al-Jufra line as a red line by President Sisi on June 20 was not for local and regional consumption, as Turkey's continued violations in Libya are pushing for greater preparedness for any potential confrontation, in the event the country’s national security becomes directly threatened by crossing the line.

The threat to Egypt’s western borders with Libya emanates from inside the Libyan depth, and that imposes on the Egyptian armed forces the imperative of carrying out large-scale exercises involving all of its branches in order to test the efficiency and capabilities of the combat units.

Major General Ezzedine denied that the “Hasm 2020” exercises were in response to what was reported about Turkey's intention to carry out manoeuvres in the Mediterranean, saying that “the Egyptian army is moving according to its goals and plans that it sets to deal with any threat.”

The Arab Weekly has learned that the Egyptian Minister of Defence, Lieutenant General Mohamed Zaki, had been present on the western border for about a month now to ensure the readiness of the forces for any possible military action outside the border, following the increasing threats from Turkey, and after receiving appeals from the Libyan army, the elected parliament, and various Libyan tribes for direct Egyptian military support.

Last Sunday, sophisticated aircraft launched nine critical strikes on air defence equipment and advanced radars installed by the Turks at al-Watiya base. The operation was a major blow to Turkish installations in Libya and a strong warning message to Ankara, which had doubled the numbers of its military experts and mercenaries in Libya.

Turkish media quoted the Turkish navy on Wednesday that prospective naval exercises will be held off the Libyan coast in three different regions. Each one of these operations will be named after famous medieval Turkish pirates and naval commanders, Barbarossa, Turgut Reis and Chaka Bey.

The newspaper Libyan Observatory said that Turkey’s choice to name the operations after pirates of the Ottoman Empire cannot be missed and reflects the nature of the military mission that Ankara intends to carry out.

It is expected that the Turkish naval exercises will take place in international waters with the participation of 17 warplanes and eight naval vessels, to suggest Ankara’s ability to control the region from the air and sea.

Turkish newspaper Yeni Şafak, close to the ruling Justice and Development Party, said that these exercises would take place soon, without revealing a specific timing for them, and that they were training exercises in anticipation of any war in the eastern Mediterranean, and in order to face the escalating tensions in Libya.

Major General Ahmed al-Mismari, spokesman for the Libyan National Army, did not rule out, on Wednesday, the possibility of a Turkish and militia attack on Sirte at any time, noting that the Libyan army was constantly monitoring Turkish movements in the region of Sirte and al-Jafra.

Al-Mismari stressed that Turkey desperately wants to reach the Libyan Oil Crescent in order to control Libya, indicating that it is leading the mobilisation for the attack and will be leading the battle itself.

This article has been republished with permission from the Arab Weekly.