After having been one of the European countries to provide the greatest diplomatic and logistic support, and remaining silent regarding the thousands of deaths and massacres committed by its troops, France has finally abandoned General Khalifa Haftar. But isn't it too late? And why now? French President Emmanuel Macron, who has bet on Haftar to defend the interests of his country and its oil companies in Libya, is now on the verge of losing his last cards.
At a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron clearly denied his support for Haftar and announced his disappointment regarding the latter's attack on the capital of Tripoli, on 4 April 2019. Macron criticised Russia for the first time, his previous ally in supporting Haftar, and its security company Wagner. He indicated that he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the subject.
Libyan Minister for Foreign Affairs Mohamed Taher Siala addressed the French president with pertinent words: "If only that was 14 months ago." The time-margin makes all the difference. In fact, 14 months ago, Tripoli struggled alone in the battle for survival, faced with the treacherous conquest of Haftar's militia. Tripoli had anticipated an international peace conference, but several countries, including France, joined together to support Haftar's coup and remove the internationally-recognised government. Macron's denial that his country did not support Haftar and his attack on Tripoli, actually triggers puzzlement.
Just one year ago, Paris acknowledged that the US Javelin missiles discovered by the Libyan army after the liberation of Gharyan (100 kilometres south of Tripoli), belonged to the French army.
Paris is 14 months late in declaring the condemnation of Haftar's attack on Tripoli and 12 months late in condemning the weapons in Gharyan. Furthermore, France did not condemn the Russian company Wagner which was involved in the Tripoli aggression for nine months, so what pushed France to change its stance and condemn Haftar and Wagner so severely?
The most obvious cause is that Haftar suffered a crushing defeat in his war against Tripoli, retreating from the east and south of a circle measuring more than 400 kilometres in diameter. Because "the defeated has no ally," France abandoned Haftar, as did Sudan and Greece, as Italy did before them.
But the real reason behind Macron's attack on Wagner and raising the issue with Putin, is the movement of Wagner's mercenaries to the Sharara oil field in the far southwest of Libya, seized last week, after units allied with the Libyan government almost recuperated it.
This field is the largest oil field in Libya. Its production can reach 300,000, or even 400,000, barrels per day during peak periods, and its reserves rise to three million barrels.
However, the most important detail regarding this issue is that the French oil company Total holds shares in the Sharara field project, which is managed by the Libyan National Oil Corporation, in partnership with the Spanish companies Repsol, the Austrian OMV and the Norwegian Equinor.
When a Russian security company comes close to the Sharara field, in which the French oil and gas giant invested large amounts of money over many years, this means entering the French influence sphere in Libya, which explains Macron's rage on Wagner.
Therefore, Macron called Putin on Friday to condemn Wagner's activity in Libya, while Putin informed him that the "private entrepreneurs" (Wagner's mercenaries) do not represent Russia.
Macron commented on Putin's disavowal of Wagner, claiming that he was: "Playing on this contradiction." But Putin is not the only one acting on inconsistency, as Macron is also in a terrible contradiction regarding Libya. How can a democratic country support a general who has organised a coup to seize power by military force and establish a dictatorship to be inherited by his sons?
In another context, specialised air traffic sites for the first time followed the launching of Syrian and Russian cargo aircraft on the Al-Khadim base, operated by the Emirates in Libya. The aircraft's movement shows that it departed from Damascus to Latakia, and then to Egypt. It was off the radar after arriving to the west of Alexandria. However, FlightAware, a website that specialises in aviation surveillance, posted photos showing the aircraft's flight path after it entered Egypt, where it headed to Al-Khadim air base in Libya. The plane appeared again last Tuesday, west of Alexandria, as it left Egypt and returned to Syria.
The site also detected a Russian cargo aircraft of the same model, departing from Moscow to Hmeimim airport in Latakia, Syria, and from the airport to Egypt, then to the border with Libya.
Turkey's Ambassador to France Ismail Hakki Musa confirmed that the arms embargo on Libya is not monitored and is not respected in eastern Libya: "And [the ban decision] is being violated daily by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)."
In a speech delivered before the French Senate Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, the Turkish ambassador confirmed that his country was in Libya in response to an official invitation from the Libyan legitimate government recognised by the United Nations (UN). Musa stated: "I do not understand why Europe and France are interested in banning the supply of weapons only by sea, while turning a blind eye on weapons supply by land and air. The UN resolution in this regard is violated daily across Egypt's land borders and by air when sending planes from the UAE to Libya."
Former UN Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salameh denounced what he referred to as the "political hypocrisy of certain countries in the UN Security Council," accusing them of "stabbing in the back" by supporting Haftar in his failed attack on Tripoli.
"I no longer have any role in Libya," the Lebanese diplomat announced in an interview with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. "On the day he attacked Tripoli, Haftar had the support of most of them [members of the Security Council], while we were criticised in Libya for not stopping him," Salameh added.
Since his nomination as the head of the UN mission in June 2017, Salameh has tried to promote negotiations between the conflicting parties to find a solution. However, he has failed more than once. Salameh noted that the Haftar attack, which was launched with the military support of Egypt, the UAE and Russia, as well as with the support of France: "Led to halting the peace process on which we have been working for a whole year."