Why is everyone fighting over Sirte?
July 2020 – The city of Sirte has become the slogan of the war in Libya, the Turkish — backed Government of National Accord forces are preparing and mobilising fighters to take control of the city, while at the same time the Libyan National Army is reinforcing its defences around the city, which Cairo considers to be a redline that will not allow it to be crossed, otherwise the response will be a direct Egyptian military intervention in Libya.
Sirte is a perfect example of the strategic importance of a geographical location, i.e it has great geopolitical significance. Far from its historical symbolism as the birthplace of former Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi and at the same time is the place where he was killed, it is located almost halfway between the two most important cities in Libya, it is about 500km away from Tripoli, which is controlled by the Libyan National Army, therefore Sirte is literally the area that separate the two groups.
More important than its centred position between the two cities, Sirte has the largest seaport in Libya and, thanks to the attention it has gained from Qadhafi’s regime, it has an excellent infrastructure. Additionally, Libya’s largest military base, Al Jufra, is located approximately 350 kliometres south of Sirte, as well as the Qardabiya Air Base, is located 16 kilometres north of Sirte.
Sirte is the key to Libya’s oil and gas. The Sirte basin contains the largest gas reserves discovered in Libya, and the four ports that export more than 80 per cent of Libyan oil are located to the east of the city, thus Sirte has become an economic target, not only at the local level but at the regional and international levels.
The conflict over Sirte is not the exclusive domain of the Libyan parties, for example, there is an unspoken struggle between France and Italy for control of the city’s oil wealth, as well as a strategic conflict between Russia and Nato, where Russia wants Al Jufra base to be the headquarters of its forces, which Nato sees as a direct threat. It is not much different for Turkey, which is also looking for Libyan gas and gas in the Mediterranean, while Egypt considers Libya to be its strategic security depth and is not prepared to accept Turkish control of Libya in any way.
The conflict over Sirte is not the sole domain of the Libyan parties, for example, there is an unspoken dispute between France and Italy to control the city’s gas and wealth, as well as a strategic rivalry between Russia and NATO, where Russia wants Al Jufra base to be the headquarters of its troops on the Medditerranean, which NATO sees as a direct threat. Turkey, which is also searching for the gas in Libya and the Mediterranean, is not much different, and Egypt considers Libya to be its strategic security depth and it will never accept Turkish control of Libya in any way.