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Who’s fighting their proxy wars in Libya?

May 9, 2019 at 9:42 am

Libyans protest against Khalifa Haftar who launched a campaign to capture capital Tripoli, on 26 April 2019 [Hazem Turkia/Anadolu Agency]

Are there any countries that are meddling in the internal affairs of Libya making its internal conflicts more of a proxy war rather than domestic internal conflict? Do those countries help fan the flames that have kept igniting in the country over the last eight years? Why can the United Nations not stop them by reinforcing its many resolutions that make it illegal to intervene in Libya’s internal affairs?

Indeed regional countries and international powers have been intervening in the Libya conflict since it first erupted in February 2011. Over the last eight years, Libya has become a battleground between conflicting interests and ideologies.

Qatar, from the very beginning, became the greatest champion of the so-called “17 February Revolution” in Libya’s version of the Arab Spring. Then, as now, Qatar says it is only helping the Libyan people decide their own future. Doha supports Libya’s Abdel Hakim Belhaj and regional militias in Misrata.

Libya: 443 killed, 2,100 injured since Haftar attack on Tripoli 

Turkey, a NATO member and longtime major economic partner, took part in the 2011 military intervention in Libya that toppled its longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi. Ankara, like Doha, helps two factions in Libya; particularly the Misratan factions with historic Turkish roots that go back to the Othman empire.

Along this Doha-Ankara axis, Sudan, Libya’s southwestern neighbour, until recently worked as a stepping stone by transferring weapons to Doha’s selected Libyan factions.

Opposing this axis there is Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. They are banding together to eradicate any lingering idea left behind by the Arab Spring. Cairo under coup leader and President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Riyadh since Mohamed Bin Salman became de-facto ruler in 2017, have joined hands in Yemen and Libya too. Cairo feels an immediate threat as long as its neighbour, Libya, is in chaos with no central government.

General Khalifa Haftar taking over Libya - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

General Khalifa Haftar taking over Libya – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Al-Sisi is right to worry about the security threats lawless Libya poses for Egypt. He also does not like the idea of too much democracy and too little control when security is at risk. He sees Haftar as the best choice for Libya.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi also want to keep Ankara’s increasing regional influence in check.

This trio is providing Haftar with all kinds of support. The Emirates is even accused of taking part in the current violence through the use of its drones.

Cross over the Mediterranean and you will find Italy and France at odds over who has the right to intervene in Libya without being questioned. Rome, Libya’s former colonial power, thinks other European countries should play to its tune. Paris, on the other hand, believes Rome’s current governing coalition would not hesitate to embarrass France in any possible way. Even as the head of the UN-backed government in Tripoli Fayez Al-Sarraj visited both capitals yesterday, they again insisted on dialogue among the Libyan factions. Yet on the ground France supports Haftar while Rome lends its support to Al-Sarraj.

READ: UN investigation into UAE military role in Libya conflict

Deep down neither Paris nor Rome believe that the strength of the other is a threat to their oil and gas interests in Libya. In fact much of their quarrels have a lot to do with wider European polices where the Italian coalition, currently in power, does not like Emmanuel Macron’s powerful drive behind more European integration even in issues of defence.

A protestor carries a banner reading "France hands off Libya" during a protest against Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar's offensive to seize Tripoli, on 12 April 2019. [Hazem Turkia - Anadolu Agency]

A protestor carries a banner reading “France hands off Libya” during a protest against Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar’s offensive to seize Tripoli, on 12 April 2019. [Hazem Turkia – Anadolu Agency]

At the end of the day, Libyans are fighting others’ wars with their own money and people. Libya will continue to slide into sporadic wars as long as the militias are willing to align themselves with regional and international foreign powers.

The same analysis applies to Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom. All these world powers would love to have a foothold in strategically located Libya but they are not willing to do it within the norms of international relations through which sovereign states enter into mutually respected agreements of cooperation. They prefer puppets not partners.

Resolutions 1970, 1973 and 2420, adopted by the UN Security Council over the past eight years, call for arms embargos and none intervene in Libya’s affairs. But the UN is unable to reinforce them. The international body knows too well who is violating these resolutions and helping destroy Libya and destabilise the entire region, but is unable to do much. The UN has so far failed even to suggest any sort of penalties for these countries. As ever, countries with the power of veto in the Security Council – the US, Russia, France and the UK – do not agree on how to handle the situation on Libya. This same group did, however, agree in 2011 and military intervened in the country sending it in to freefall.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.