The geopolitical competition between global actors and regional powers in the Mediterranean basin is triggering realignments, shedding lights on the rivalry between two emerging regional fronts facing each other in the wider region. Latest developments, including the US’s diplomatic support for Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara and the normalisation of diplomatic ties between Rabat and Tel Aviv, are increasingly pushing Morocco to join the conservative and counter-revolutionary front including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. On the other side, powers closer to the Muslim Brotherhood are continuing to make progress as well. Despite that the end of the Gulf crisis casts doubts over Qatar’s foreign policy trajectory in the coming months, Turkey is quietly expanding its influence in the Maghreb, relying on a proactive military-industrial complex.
In December several sources reported that Tunisia had struck an agreement to buy three drones of the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). Alongside the purchase of three Anka-S medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles, the $80 million deal (financed in full by the Türk Eximbank) also included three ground stations and the training of 52 pilots and maintenance personnel of the Tunisian Air Force, in Turkey. The deal follows a 2017 military cooperation agreement, signed on the occasion of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Tunis.
The latest round of fighting in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh has certainly exposed laid out progress made by Turkish arms manufacturers. As well as showing the importance of unmanned warfare in giving aerial supremacy to Ankara-supported factions, Turkey’s involvement in these conflicts tested operationally other military equipment as well, such as the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armoured vehicle Kirpi, manufactured by the BMC company and shipped to forces affiliated with the Government of National Accord in Libya in 2019. According to Turkish sources, the Kirpi is listed among the US$150 million worth of Turkish defence equipment exported to Tunisia in 2020 and including: the Ejder Yalcin wheeled armoured vehicles, produced by Nurol Makina; the BMC-manufactured Vuran Armoured Personnel Carrier, tankers and tanks made by Katmerciler and the electro-optic systems from Aselsan.
Given its current status as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Tunisia perfectly fits as a partner of choice for authorities in Ankara. The alignment, however, will face considerable hurdles in the coming months, especially in consideration of Tunisia’s fragmented political landscape. Elective affinities between the ruling Ennahda and AKP parties are prone to make the political climate in Tunisia increasingly heated, due to strong resistance to any further convergence between Ankara and Tunis from opposition parties. The intersection between Turkey’s military adventurism and Tunisia’s domestic politics is likely to produce further frictions in Tunis, adding to existing difficulties between President Kais Saied and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi.
Associate Fellow for the Conflict, Security and Development Programme at the IISS and Maghreb Analyst for the NATO Defense College Foundation, he regularly publishes on issues such as political developments, security and terrorism in the North Africa region