Daily Briefing: The Proxy War Playing Out In Libya, And Why It Matters To Israel (May 7, 2019)

General Khalifa Haftar (Source: Magharebia/Flickr)

Generals Vs. Islamists in Libya:  Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 26, 2019 — The offensive by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army on Tripoli is currently stalled. Haftar’s troops have encountered strong resistance from Sunni Islamist militias based in the city, backed by similar formations from Misrata further east.
While You Weren’t Looking, General Haftar Has Been Taking Over Libya: Tarek Megerisi,Foreign Policy, Apr. 1, 2019 — In Libya since the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi, years often pass without much change as political deadlock continues and the economy decays.
General Haftar’s Greatest Gamble in Libya is Going Against Him:  Eric Reguly, Globe and Mail, Apr. 25, 2019 — At 76, Khalifa Haftar is full of fight and making the biggest military and geopolitical move of his life. And it’s not going well.
Are Turkey and Qatar Supporting Terrorism in Libya?Dr. Shady A. MansourEuropean Eye on Radicalization, Apr. 26, 2019 — In Libya, a battle is underway for the capital, Tripoli. On one side is the General Khalifa Haftar-led Libyan National Army (LNA), whose power base is in the east of the country, and on the other side is the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), formally led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and propped up by various militias.
 

On Topic Links
 
In Talks With Russia And Egypt, Haftar Seeks To Counter Foreign Involvement:  Jemai Guesmi, The Arab Weekly, Apr. 16, 2019 – Libyan National Army commander Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar moved to win international support for the military campaign to gain control of Tripoli while his forces drew out armed militias to the outskirts of the Libyan capital.
Libya: Who is Khalifa Haftar and Why Does He Want to Take Tripoli?DW News, Youtube.  Apr 6, 2019
Turkey and Regional Rivals Clash in Libya: Paul Iddon, Ahval, Apr. 16, 2019 — With the civil war in Libya heating up once again, Turkey’s role there may become significantly more important.
A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players: Mattia Toaldo, European Council on Foreign Relations— In Libya, there are very few truly national actors. The vast majority are local players, some of whom are relevant at the national level while representing the interests of their region, or in most cases, their city.

 

 

GENERALS VS. ISLAMISTS IN LIBYA

Jonathan Spyer
Jerusalem Post, Apr. 26, 2019
 
The offensive by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army on Tripoli is currently stalled. Haftar’s troops have encountered strong resistance from Sunni Islamist militias based in the city, backed by similar formations from Misrata further east. Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, leader of the Islamist-aligned Government of National Accord in Tripoli, has refused to negotiate, until LNA forces are withdrawn. Haftar’s forces are associated with the rival governing authority of the House of Representatives based in Tobruk, in eastern Libya. The stage seems set for a drawn-out battle for the Libyan capital.
 
Haftar launched his offensive on April 4. The Tripoli-based government announced a counteroffensive it called Operation Volcano of Anger on April 7. In subsequent days, Haftar’s forces moved forward, taking the town of Gharyan, 80 km. south of Tripoli, before encountering stronger resistance at the southern entrance to Tripoli.
 
What is the significance of the latest turn of events in Libya? While the fight may appear to be simply a tussle for resources and power between an ambitious military man and a government of shaky legitimacy, the chaotic Libyan battle is in fact a proxy war pitting client of two key power axes in the Middle East against one another. For this reason, its outcome is of interest to Western powers – and to Israel.
 
To understand this, it is necessary to observe who is supporting whom in Libya. Haftar and his LNA have benefited since 2014 from the support of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE, according to regional media reports, has carried out air and drone strikes in support of the LNA. Egyptian and Emirati provision of funding, arms and equipment is crucial to Haftar’s efforts.
 
In the period immediately preceding the launch of his offensive, Haftar appears also to have secured the support of Saudi Arabia. The Libyan general met with King Salman on March 27 at al-Yamamah palace in Riyadh. He also met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the course of his visit. The access afforded Haftar suggests that he was able to add Riyadh to his list of supporters. Haftar is thus the ally and client of those broadly Western-aligned, authoritarian Arab states that find a common enemy in the Sunni political Islam of the anti-Western Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.
 
On the other side, Turkey and Qatar (and the now-deposed Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir) are strongly supportive of the Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood associated elements that share power with the government in Tripoli. Evidence has emerged of illicit arms shipments by Turkey to the forces in Tripoli. On December 18, 2018, the authorities seized a shipment of 3,000 Turkish-made handguns at Khoms, a port east of Tripoli. Four million bullets were discovered on a Turkish freighter docking in Libya a short time later. Another consignment of weaponry from Turkey was discovered at Misrata on January 7.
 
Qatari support, meanwhile, is offered to Islamist militias and powerful individuals associated with the jihadi trend, most notably the Benghazi Defense Brigades, formed in direct response to Haftar’s activities in 2014, and bringing together a number of jihadi militias. Doha also offers support to Ali Salabi, an influential preacher and Muslim Brotherhood member, and to Abdel Hakim Belhaj, chairman of Libya’s al-Watan Party and a former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group member.
 
The forces arrayed against Haftar are thus representative of the Sunni Islamist axis. Ankara and Doha seek to expand and deepen their regional influence through support for Sunni Islamist political and military organizations. This pattern may also be observed, of course, in Syria, the Palestinian territories and Iraq.
 
It is worth noting that Haftar and the LNA are currently in the unusual position of enjoying the tacit support of both Russia and the US. Moscow notes Haftar’s grip on the oil resources of Libya’s east, and his fight against Sunni Islamists. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, on April 15 spoke with Haftar by telephone, and according to the White House “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources.” This move contradicted an April 7 statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing opposition to Haftar’s offensive and calling for an immediate ceasefire… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
 
 
WHILE YOU WEREN’T LOOKING,  GENERAL HAFTAR HAS BEEN TAKING OVER LIBYA

Tarek Megerisi
Foreign Policy, Apr. 1, 2019
 
In Libya since the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi, years often pass without much change as political deadlock continues and the economy decays. Then a moment of opportunism triggers a chain reaction. One such chain reaction has taken place this year, begun by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s military advance into southern Libya and seizure of key oil fields. This step seems likely to result in the fulfillment of the warlord’s long-held—and increasingly internationally supported—desire to control all of Libya. But before jumping on Haftar’s bandwagon, international players should recognize that his advance is more likely to result in renewed violence than a long-sought opportunity to stabilize the country under one government.
 
After Haftar re-emerged from his long-term exile in suburban Virginia, political competition between Islamists, Qaddafi-loyalist technocrats, ex-regime associates, and those persecuted by the regime combined with a patchwork of local conflicts and the rise of jihadi groups to spark a second civil war in 2014. This dynamic caused the politicians to be eclipsed by their armed counterparts—notably, by Haftar himself, as his military operation left militarized administrations in its wake across eastern Libya. Five years on, the country remains torn between the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord, based in Tripoli and headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and the Haftar-backed administration in eastern Libya. The international community has largely stood by, detached from the reality on the ground and trying to create political unity among increasingly marginalized politicians.
 
In 2019, the spread of Haftar’s self-declared Libyan National Army (LNA) through southern Libya has been surprisingly rapid. Under a media campaign promoting the operation as an effort to expel foreign forces and terrorists from southern Libya, the LNA (which uses foreign militias) moved quickly in February to secure Libya’s el-Sharara and el-Feel oil fields, which together produce close to 400,000 barrels per day. Just as he did when he won control of eastern Libya’s oil facilities in September 2016, Haftar subsumed strategically placed local forces (including those guarding the oil fields) into the LNA with the promise of a uniform and a salary.
 
Perhaps most revealing was the accompanying distribution of a parallel Libyan currency (which Russia has supplied in order to keep Haftar and eastern Libya’s parallel government liquid over the last few years) along with flour, gas, and petroleum to the long-neglected local population. Haftar’s seizure of the oil fields advertises to Libya’s general populace that he can supply what Tripoli’s feckless Government of National Accord cannot.
 
This recent move south was bold and significant. But this operation—slick as it was—will not be sufficient to break the status quo. Haftar has held the majority of Libya’s oil production since 2016, not to mention his de facto control of Libya’s elected legislature and its self-appointed government, which has been administering the east in opposition to the Government of National Accord in Tripoli (which was itself created by the Libyan Political Agreement).
 
But Haftar has failed to translate his factual control on the ground into real political currency—namely, a leadership position in the internationally recognized government. His attempt to independently sell oil in June 2018, which could have been a game changer, was met with concerted international resistance that ultimately forced him to back down. Since that blunt power grab was stifled, Haftar and his backers have made a subtler attempt at generating influence where it matters, amongst Tripoli’s de facto power holders and the international community driving Libya’s political process.
 
This year’s diplomatic efforts have focused on manufacturing a deal between Haftar and the Government of National Accord’s Sarraj—essentially sidelining Libya’s two legislative houses in a track aimed at formalizing Haftar’s national role. It was only once these negotiations stalled that Haftar and the LNA made good on a long-standing threat to launch the southern operation, which was toasted in the United Arab Emirates, one of Haftar’s main supporters. This was quickly followed by a fresh round of diplomacy. First, the chairman of Libya’s National Oil Corporation was convinced to lift force majeure on the captured southern oil fields, essentially ceding control to Haftar in a recognition of his invasion as an “extraordinary event,” thus legitimizing Haftar’s presence there and cementing his control over Libya’s oil. In late February, Sarraj and Haftar were brought together by the United Arab Emirates and the United Nations special envoy to Libya for fresh negotiations aimed at finalizing a political deal—now with Haftar bringing even more weight to the table. But Haftar still left Abu Dhabi without anything solid, suggesting that Sarraj did what he does best, stalling negotiations in an attempt to buy time. He is, however, negotiating with an increasingly weak hand… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

 
GENERAL HAFTAR’S GREATEST GAMBLE IN LIBYA IS GOING AGAINST HIM

Eric Reguly
Globe and Mail, Apr. 25, 2019
 
At 76, Khalifa Haftar is full of fight and making the biggest military and geopolitical move of his life. And it’s not going well. The aging general – actually field marshal, the highest army ranking, typically given in honour of battle victories – launched his attack on Tripoli on April 4, after his cakewalk through the south of Libya from his power base in the eastern half of the country. The assault on the capital was his strongman effort to bring all of Libya under his control and vanquish the country’s “terrorist” gangs. “Everything is coded in terrorism rhetoric – he wants to purge Tripoli of ‘terrorists,’” says Jacob Mundy, the author of a book on Libya and a Fulbright professor who is now teaching in Tunis. “His view is that [the United Nations-recognized Tripoli government] is an enabler of terrorism.”
 
U.S. President Donald Trump last week endorsed Gen. Haftar, even if the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, warned Gen. Haftar to halt “immediately” his offensive against Tripoli. In a statement, the White House said Mr. Trump “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources.” Citing unidentified sources, Bloomberg has since reported that Mr. Trump told Gen. Haftar in a phone call that he supported Gen. Haftar’s attack on Tripoli.
 
While Gen. Haftar has defeated Islamic State forces in Benghazi, his opponents note that he has forged alliances with the ultra-conservative Islamist Salafi forces, called Madkhalists, which at one point he had intended to eradicate. The opponents say that instead of uniting Libya, he is splintering it even further by ignoring the UN peace process, which, in spite of several false starts, held out the best prospects for bringing the country together without bloodshed.
 
Since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was hauled out of a culvert during the Libyan revolution in 2011 and killed, the country has been a tangle of warring militias – a failed state, the dark side of the Arab Spring that had begun next door in little Tunisia. Gen. Haftar would restore order, or so his propaganda machine, now backed by Mr. Trump, as well as Egypt and France, to a certain degree, had declared.
 
The attack on Tripoli was both audacious and cynical. It came exactly when UN Secretary-General António Guterres was in the city to prepare for a peace conference that would set a timetable to unite the country, rewrite the constitution and hold democratic elections. Instead, Gen. Haftar handed Libya a fresh civil war, and the body count is rising.
 
Equipped with regular and irregular troops – the latter being a ragtag collection of militias of varying degrees of fighting ability, brutality, allegiance and religious fanaticism – the general’s invasion of Tripoli was supposed to be swift and relatively bloodless.
 
He apparently thought that the militias defending Tripoli and the city of Misrata, about 200 kilometres to the east, would roll over and join the inevitable winning team – his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA). “He does see himself as the Libyan leader,” says Prof. Mundy. “It seems he launched the attack to interrupt the peace process and take over.”
 
The attack didn’t go to plan. The militias supporting the regime in Tripoli – the Government of National Accord (GNA), led by its Prime Minister, Fayez al-Sarraj – accused Gen. Haftar of launching a coup attempt. (“He stabbed us in the back,” Mr. Sarraj said.) The GNA fought back and even managed to recruit some factions from the powerful Misrata militias to join the defence of Tripoli.
 
Today, three weeks after the start of his Tripoli campaign, Gen. Haftar’s LNA is bogged down on the outskirts of the city, perhaps 20 or 25 kilometres from the centre. In recent days, he has even lost some ground, according to diplomatic sources and various media reports. By Tuesday, the death toll on both sides had risen to 264, the UN’s World Health Organization reported. Almost 1,300 have been injured and many thousands have been displaced from their homes in the southern suburbs of Tripoli (population almost three million). Gen. Haftar’s strongman image has taken a blow, but this is not the first time he has been humbled. While he has scored some compelling victories in his long military career, he has also taken a few devastating losses.
 
Gen. Haftar is an enigma… [To read the full article, click the following LINK– Ed.]
 

 

ARE TURKEY AND QATAR SUPPORTING TERRORISM IN LIBYA?

Dr. Shady A. Mansour
European Eye on Radicalization, Apr. 26, 2019
                                               
In Libya, a battle is underway for the capital, Tripoli. On one side is the General Khalifa Haftar-led Libyan National Army (LNA), whose power base is in the east of the country, and on the other side is the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), formally led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and propped up by various militias. Ahmed al-Mismari, the spokesman of the LNA, recently stated that terrorist banners belonging to the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda have started to emerge in the GNA-held areas of Tripoli. He even went further, accusing Turkey of meddling in the battle by sending Jabhat al-Nusra extremists from Syria to support the GNA in its fight against the LNA.
 
This article will try to assess these claims, by analyzing the root causes of the current turmoil in Libya and examining the historical relations between the Turkey-Qatar alliance and the terrorist and extremist groups in Libya.
 
Tale of Two Governments
 
In the first democratic elections in Libya in 2012, Islamist parties failed to achieve a majority, and some parties affiliated to extremists, such as the Homeland Party (Hizb al-Watan), founded by Abd al-Hakim Belhaj, a veteran of the Afghan jihad and the former leader of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIGF), won no seats.
 
Despite their failure, the Islamist militias, including some linked to terrorist organizations, continued to hold considerable influence. They were able to impose a siege on the elected parliament to demand the passage of laws that suited them and to have prominent leaders appointed to key ministerial posts.
 
In the United Nations-supervised parliamentary elections of 25 June 2014, the more secular factions won most of the seats and the Islamists took only around 30 seats out of 200. Rather that conceding defeat, the Islamists and their allies on Libya’s west coast formed the Libya Dawn coalition and launched a coup d’état. The Islamists captured Tripoli after a seven-week battle. The newly-elected parliament fled to the eastern town of Tobruk and in time, appointed Haftar as its army commander. In Tripoli, a “National Salvation Government” (NSG) was formed, composed of those who had lost the 2014 election. The NSG was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
 
In an attempt to resolve the issue of competing authorities, the U.N. mediated the establishment of the GNA in December 2015. Al-Sarraj was selected to lead the GNA and in April 2016 he returned to Tripoli, establishing some authority. The NSG effectively disintegrated soon after this, though the NSG’s authority was invoked when its former leader, Khalifa al-Ghawil, staged a coup attempt against the GNA several months later, an effort that has resulted in intermittent clashes ever since. Various institutions set up under the U.N. plan have not functioned properly, however. The High Council of State (HCS), an unelected advisory body to the parliament, was supposed to be a short-term compromise between the GNA and the Tobruk government; the HCS now has a significant, unchecked influence over the make-up of the bureaucracy in Tripoli and it is led by Khalid al-Meshri, an ostensibly-former Muslim Brotherhood leader. The Tobruk-based parliament has refused to recognize the GNA, and the U.N.’s role in effectively ratifying a seizure of power by people who lost an election has been controversial. The Tobruk administration has operated with its own Prime Minister, Abdullah al-Thani.
 
Despite the GNA being recognized by most fact that most international players, including the United States, European Union, and the U.N.,[5] it lacks legitimacy and is perceived by some Libyans as a foreign imposition. Furthermore, the GNA has been unable to exercise de facto sovereignty, even over Tripoli, which has become divided between four large local militias that have infiltrated and hollowed out the state institutions… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]