The ‘international community’ recognises its past initiatives over the last seven years have all failed and ‘the West’ now needs, as a matter of urgency, an end to the Libyan debacle.
However the fact is ‘the West’ is much divided over what should happen in Libya, notably France and Italy, who each have vast economic interests that are at odds with one another. While the US and UK of course have an eye on their potential economic interests in a future-liberated Libya, theirs is more of an anti-terrorism effort aimed at eradicating IS’s presence in Libya and specifically to find Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who is thought to have recently moved to Libya and set up a new HQ.
IS released an 18-minute video of him speaking, thought to have been taped in Libya. The first such video showing al-Baghdadi to surface in five years.
In the intervening period, the battle to take Tripoli continues by Field Marshall’s Haftar’s forces.
Following on the heels of a vote by several members of the East Libyan parliament to label the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, Washington is also contemplating the designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.
The London based pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat reported on May 14 that Haftar is directly accusing the Muslim Brotherhood governments of both Turkey and Qatar of supporting extremist militias, that include IS, and that notably Turkey has been supplying arms shipments regularly to Misrata.
One must acknowledge the change in Haftar’s fortunes after he received a telephone call of support, in April, from President Donald Trump, despite the fact that that call instigated widespread criticism from the ‘international community’s’ mainstream media.
Could it be that Trump wants Haftar to capture or kill al-Baghdadi, a man compared to Bin Laden?
The consequence of Trump emboldening Haftar actually also creates the potential environment for a relatively bloodless takeover of Tripoli. The critical question is how long will it take Haftar to secure Tripoli?
Meanwhile let us analyse the condemnations of Trump’s call.
A Bloomberg article called ‘Trump backed Libyan strongman’s attack on Tripoli, US officials say’ of April 24, contains several criticisms of the call.
In The Guardian, they encapsulate their opinion by their heading ‘No coherent policy: Trump’s scattergun approach plunges Libya deeper into peril’ published April 30.
In the Bloomberg piece, it says: “President Trump indicated in a phone call with Libyan strongman Haftar last week that the US supported an assault on the country’s capital to depose its United Nations-backed government, according to American officials familiar with the matter.”
It continues: “The revelation that the US President had tacitly recognised Haftar and addressed him as “Field Marshal” in the statement, as a Libyan leader abruptly undermined the country’s internationally-recognised government led by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj.
The response to that is Serraj has zero legitimacy and zero credibility with the Libyan people. He is merely a ‘patsy’ for the UN and the ‘international community’.
Back in 2006, The Guardian published a piece titled ‘What the hell is the international community?’
The moral support given to Haftar by Trump’s call to him was important and significant and could prove to yet tip the balance of power
Back then when The Guardian had teeth, it said: “We all know what is meant by the term ‘international community’, don’t we? It’s the West, of course, nothing more, nothing less. Using the term ‘international community’ is a way of dignifying the West, of globalising it, of making it sound more respectable...”
Now that’s honest writing, honestjournalism!
Back to Trump’s telephone call, the Bloomberg piece added: “Trump also spoke with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a Haftar supporter, the day before the White House issued the statement acknowledging the call with Haftar.”
I say, so what? The UAE Crown Prince is a major player, maybe one of the most influential, if not the most, in MENA politics today. His word carries tremendous weight and for many important and good reasons.
The Guardian piece said “...support for Haftar’s offensive, directly contradicts a formal statement a few days earlier from the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.”
All that confirms to us is something we already know; that the US has little consensus among its political establishment on what should be their foreign policy in any country, not just Libya.
I hope I have put into perspective the inaccuracies of the MSM’s reporting and analysis, let us consider the potential best outcome for Libya and Libyans in the immediate future.
That Serraj resigns would be the best solution; the Brotherhood’s hold over him makes this unlikely unless the ‘international community’ forces him out. A most desirable result would be the selection of a consensus new prime minister, essentially secular, a prime minister endorsed by his outgoing predecessor (Serraj) and, this being the critical part, a man that Haftar accepts to actually be the new prime minister. Neither Serraj nor Haftar seem to want this now, resulting in effectively a stalemate between the two sides with the losers being the Libyan people.
I would like to point out that Haftar, at 75 years of age, and in rather poor health, has no ambitions to be a dictator.
Yes he would like to continue to be a powerful player in Libyan affairs and for the rest of his life. He will go down in history as the man who militarily ‘saved his country’. A well-deserved legacy for a soldier.
I emphasise a small number of important facts: Haftar has always been care-ful to limit civilian collateral deaths and injury.
The Serraj GNA Forces are not a cohesive force but rather a collection of extremists; militias that include former senior Al Qaeda, IS and Muslim Brotherhood members. These might hopefully dissipate under military pressure from Haftar’s Forces. On the other hand they might not.
Serraj’s militias in Tripoli and more so, in Misrata, employ many mercenaries, most vividly and very embarrassingly, exposed by the downing recently of ‘an alleged Portuguese fighter pilot’ over Tripoli by Haftar’s forces. That might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Libyan people; the discovery of that fact. The Brotherhood are particularly strong in Misrata.
The Libyan people’s patience is at an end. They demand a solution.
Haftar wants a coalition of the majority of the people not just by fighting, but by ‘negotiation’ with many of his adversaries, a very Libyan solution!
So far, Haftar has not granted Russia a military base in East Libya. This appeals of course to the Americans. But Haftar, with the East Libyan Parliament, could change its mind if Trump’s US ‘dilly-dallys’ over its support for East Libya and Haftar.
The hope is that the end of Libya’s ‘slow burning’ civil war is finally in its last stages.
The conclusion though is that the moral support given to Haftar by Trump’s call to him was important and significant and could prove to yet tip the balance of power in the civil war in Haftar’s favour.
That said the realistic sombre assessment of the situation leads one to conclude that the ‘impasse’ could, on the other hand, last months unless the intransigence of one or both of these two men, Serraj and Haftar, is broken.
Richard Galustian is a political and security advisor based in MENA countries for nearly 40 years.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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