Ever since the killing of Libya’s dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has not seen peace as a bloody civil war has been ensuing between two of the factions for control of the country’s capital. Although, the conflict has been going on for the past nine years, the current hostilities are referred to as the second Libyan Civil war which began in 2014. Since 2016, the conflict has continued to be power struggle between the UN-recgonised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli led by Fayez Al-Sarraj and a retired Libyan general Khalifa Haftar who heads House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk.
The conflict is complex, given the involvement of regional and extra-regional powers which are backing either of the two in the light of their own national interests. Mr. Haftar, who controls most of the Libyan Territory and is commanding Libyan National Army (LNA), a belligerent of the civil war against Sarraj’s government in Tripoli is backed by Russia, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. On the other hand, The GNA has the support of Turkey, Qatar and European Union. However, USA’s role has been dubious with officially supporting the GNA but also voicing support for Haftar’s offensive.
The reports by UN panel in the past revealed that the arms embargo imposed on Libya in February 2011 by the United Nations, was repeatedly and bluntly violated by foreign states. The Haftar controlled region borders with Egypt and therefore it has been an easy task for Egypt to channel weapons for Haftar’s LNA. Egypt has also been essentially deploying Sudanese militia in support for Haftar’s offensives. Haftar’s major offensive in 2014 was supported by Emirati planes that struck Benghazi but had flown from Egyptian airbase.
It was reported that the UN-recognised GNA led by Sarraj was being militarily supported by Turkey and in June 2019, Turkey officially confirmed the reports. The Turkish justification offered by president Erdogan stated that the country had an agreement of military cooperation with the legitimate government of Libya and since the UAE and Egypt were pouring in military support against it, Turkey had the right to balance if the Libyan government requested and payed for arms.
Where Turkey and Egypt are locking horns against each other by supporting GNA and LNA respectively along with their allies, it is imperative to understand the prominence of Russian role which has been a hot debate since Moscow’s deployment of at least 200 mercenaries of Wagner Group which has ties with Kremlin. Along with skilled snipers, Russia has poured financial support valuing at least $3 Billion for Haftar’s LNA. Despite such significant support, the fact that Moscow is acting as a powerbroker is evident from the fact that it welcomed GNA’s Fayez Al-Sarraj in Sochi in October.
In a recent move, Turkish parliament approved deployment of its troops to support GNA against Haftar’s offensive to capture Tripoli. This development has further intricated the conflict where multiple powers are involved for various dimensions of interests.
For Ankara, the survival of government in Tripoli is important for various reasons. First, the GNA is assisted by Islamist factions, including the Muslim Brotherhood which has been actively supported by Turkey and Qatar in the Middle East, much to the anguish of Egypt and UAE which are bitterly hostile to political Islam in general and Muslim Brotherhood in particular.
Second, Turkey’s renewed resolve in Libya is both a geopolitical and economic adventure aimed at securing its share in Mediterranean energy. The GNA government not only hosts a large number of Turkish workers operating its oil refineries but guarantees oil supplies to Ankara worth $20 Billion. In November 2019, the two countries reached a maritime delineation agreement which would impact Mediterranean Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and provide Turkey the opportunity to explore and drill for gas and also construct pipelines. The Turkish interests also run counter to Israel which aims to become a net exporter of gas via Leviathan Gas project which plans to export Israel’s gas to Europe via Cyprus and Greece. It is, therefore, not hard to imagine, what Haftar’s capture of Tripoli would mean for Turkey.
In the European Union, France and Italy have been deviating from the official line that supports the GNA in Tripoli. France’s oil giant ‘Total’ has access to oil fields in the Eastern Libya which are under the control of Haftar’s LNA. In 2018, Total acquired 16% shares in Libya’s Waha Concessions by purchasing Marathon Oil Libya Limited. France is sceptical of radicals Islamists in Tripoli assisting the GNA as counter-terrorism forms the major agenda of French National Security after 2015 Paris attack. Italy, on the other hand is critical of France’s role in Libya as the North African state was an Italian colony and Rome wants to keep its influence there. Rome considers Haftar’s role critical in stemming immigration to Italy which has been one of its major concerns.
It has now become easier to see Russia’s position as power-broker in Libya with geopolitical lens, beyond its economic and security interests. Putin’s Russia is on the resurgence in the International Politics particularly after the events of 2014. It has successfully managed to become a heavy weight on the geopolitical chessboard, particularly after its effective intervention in Syria. By gaining stakes in the Libyan conflict through mercenaries and diplomatically standing for peace initiatives, Moscow may utilise the conflict for gaining leverage over Ankara in Idilib, Syria and can also pressure European Union for waving off sanctions. Given its successful intervention in Syria, its stake in the conflict cannot be neglected. The more active role Moscow assumes in Libya, the more pressure regarding possible severe ramifications will be felt in European capitals.
In a recent development, Germany invited all stakeholders in the Libyan crisis including Turkey, Egypt, UAE, Algeria and Morocco alongside five permanent members of the UN security council. Fayez Al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar were also present but did not meet face to face. The participants of the conference agreed on finding a political solution to the problem and ensuring ceasefire between the belligerents. The conference is a way forward but peace is still a long shot, given the intricacy of the conflict and diverging interests of various stakeholders involved.
Libya is a complex theatre of civil war which has been caused by collapse of institutions and generation of power vacuum. Notwithstanding the fact that the regional and extra-regional powers are exploiting the situation for their own interests, the solution lies within Libya. Drafts can be proposed but are of little significance in practice when a state has no mechanism to implement them. Nevertheless, with so many actors involved, a compromise that balances out interests of various stakeholders can prepare ground for peace which has been absent in the state for the past nine years.
About The Author
Abubakar Farooqui is the brains behind Rationale 47. He Studies International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. His areas of interest include National Security of Pakistan and International Politics, particularly of Afghanistan and Middle East. He tweets @AbubakarTweets
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Rationale-47.