The clash of interests over the Libyan cake

Al-Quds Al-Arabi – Apr. 22, 2019, issue 9522, p. 21

There is no doubt that the Libyan economy before the Arab Spring was one of the most powerful economies in North Africa. Its high-quality natural gas constituted financial security for its society, but that did not give the full picture of that period. We can not limit the lives of the Libyan people within the economy alone. Political life did not exist. The absolute leader was Gaddafi and his successor would be chosen by him. The country’s constitution would be designed based on Gaddafi’s wishes, and the proclamation and end of war would be according to his mood. Human rights and freedom of expression were non-existent while prisons were not intended for criminals, but Gaddafi turned them into compulsory housing for anyone who opposed his policy.

Gaddafi’s narcissism

Within this negative inner atmosphere, Gaddafi’s narcissism did not stop there. Libyan regional and international relations under his rule were characterized by a lack of discipline and lack of planning and strategy. At times, he collided with Washington for a nuclear project or a childish speech. Sometimes he offered his services free of charge to the CIA by opening his prisons and placing his investigators as its employees for torture of the detainees to get information since they could dirty their hands unlike the Americans. As for his relations with other Arab countries, they were not always smooth. Sometimes he collided with Saudi Arabia, sometimes he kidnapped an important personality of Lebanon in conflict with the government of the country, and sometimes collided without any real reason with the Algerian government. In Europe, Libya’s natural gas and Gaddafi’s own money in banks of the old continent was a sufficient price to silence the mouths and the so-called “free” press. With the onset of the Arab Spring wave in the beginning of the current decade, the Libyan people were among the first to rise against the tyrant in Tripoli, Benghazi and most of Libya, demanding their lost freedom and overthrow of the dictatorial regime. And then the struggle of the foreign powers for the precious prey on the territory of Libya began.

The fall of nepotism

At the end of October 2011, Libyan rebels announced the fall of the Gaddafi family system and the country’s entry into a new political stage. However, despite the tough efforts of the Libyan National Transition Council formed after the revolution, foreign interests prevented the success of the effort to stabilize the country. Without any notice, an American private aircraft from Washington landed in Benghazi, transporting General Khalifa Haftar, who later will be known as the commander of the Libyan National Army. Haftar, with clear external support, managed to recruit thousands of Libyan youths who were former Gaddafi soldiers or were forced by economic necessity to form a militia that brought the country into an internal conflict. It has emerged as a civil conflict, but the reality is that it is a conflict of external interests through a militia that has committed war crimes and is protected by countries claiming to respect human rights. Over the past seven years, Haftar has twice tried to overthrow the internationally acclaimed Tripoli government, but these efforts have failed. On April 4, Haftar announced the start of a new coup attempt to control Tripoli in a way that suggests that his supporters and the Government of the National Agreement have reached a deadlock and the country cannot be divided.

Bloody events

Following the bloody events around Tripoli and Misrata, the situation got regional and international dimensions, which most international media evade to mention. The battle around Tripoli is fueled by Libyans, but real players are outside the Libyan border. I can say quite clearly that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt are direct supporters of the Haftar militia. This is confirmed by his visit to Riyadh, just days before the start of the last battle. In addition, it is internationally supported by France and Russia openly and directly, militarily and logistically. The four Russian bases around the city of Benghazi in the east of Libya are clear evidence of this support as well as the international coverage provided by both countries to Haftar through Moscow’s recent veto on the Security Council and through the French manipulation of the drafting of UN declarations.

On the other hand, the positions of the Tripoli Government of National Accord, despite the fact that it is the internationally recognized legitimate government, are supported by a few sides, headed by Turkey and Italy. With a quick look at this complex structure of alliances, we can see the huge contradictions that undoubtedly confirm that politics does not see enemies or friends, but the language of interests is the only compass in any international move. Ankara, Russia’s strategic partner in Syria, is in opposition to it in the Libyan file and, while Paris is working strongly against Moscow’s interests in the Ukrainian file, the two countries share the same line in the Libyan file.

Sudden move

The results of the battle of Tripoli and the other cities controlled by the Government of National Accord nearly two weeks after its inception can lead to conclusions about before after. The sudden timing of this military movement confirms that Haftar clearly took the green light from his Western supporters and the Arabs. This attitude was based on information provided by Haftar himself that his troops are capable of ending the battle in just a few days. But the results after the first week and his unexpected visit to Moscow confirm that the situation on the ground is not satisfactory. And while it took several days after the start of hostilities for Washington to make the first announcement, it is confirmed that tacitly agrees with this move. However, the initial results in the field have prompted it to avoid taking an open position.

On the ground, according to local sources, the simple progress achieved by the Haftar militias in the first five days was lost as the battles entered the second week. The airport of Tripoli controlled by the National Agreement Government, which Haftar tried to control because of its strategic importance, managed to withstand and even managed to strengthen in recent days. The National Accord’s internal alliances have allowed it to gather many fighters, making it very difficult for Haftar’s operation in the current ground and air military equation.

Because of the absence or opacity of the real role of the United Nations and its envoy in the Libyan file, we can say that bullets and rockets are the ones driving the current Libyan scene. What is certain according to the numbers and the map is that the time given to Haftar and his militias is running out and the “battle of finger biting” (in Arabic expression) will be the language of the coming days. That is, the weaker party at first will be the weakest when it comes to the table of the next political negotiations.