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Defense and Foreign Affairs

Defense and Foreign Affairs

Defense and Foreign Affairs is a geopolitical news publication offered by the International Strategic Studies Association.

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Libya May Be Focus Of Major Rift Between US And Regional Allies

Libya May Be Focus Of Major Rift Between US And Regional Allies

It had become clear by late August 2014 that Libya could no longer be seen as a unified state; at best it was in two parts, even with the communal leaderships of both sides professing a desire to resume national unity. By late August 2014, the country had two parliaments: one elected by the Libyan people, and the other given legitimacy solely by foreign support.   

The situation seemed so intractable by that point that it was possible that a full military intervention by regional states, perhaps spearheaded by Egypt, could be attempted, with the goal of stabilizing the country and eliminating the foreign-funded and foreign-armed jihadis who were using Libya as a springboard for a proposed pro-Islamist war against the current Egyptian Government.

The proxy forces of the 2011 unilateral intervention by Qatar, supporting jihadis and the Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan), and by Turkey and the US, into the Cyrenaican revolt against Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, were still dominating the Libyan political scene, much to the frustration of Libyan tribal forces.  

Qatar was creating a “Free Egyptian Army” in the Cyrenaica desert, and patterned on the “Free Syrian Army” which Qatar, Turkey, and the US had built to challenge Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.  

Significantly, while the US and European Union (EU) continued in August 2014 to promote the concept of a unified Libya, they were basing their approach around what was essentially a modification of the mode of governance practiced by Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, who seized power by a coup in 1969, and held it until 2011. Widespread Libyan calls for a return to the 1951 Constitution — drafted by the United Nations and the 140 or so Libyan tribes — have been consistently ignored by Washington and Brussels.  

By August 2014, the foreign jihadist fighters — mainly linked to salafist groups and either directly or indirectly working with the Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan) — were still entrenched in Cyrenaica, in Eastern Libya (where the local moderate. anti-salafist Senussiyah sect of Islam predominates), supported by Qatar, Turkey, and the US Government. As well, they were entrenched around Tripoli.  

By August 18, 2014, the situation had deteriorated to the point where United Arab Emirates (UAE) combat aircraft, operating from Egyptian bases, conducted air strikes against jihadist militia forces around Tripoli, without prior warning to the US. The operation was also coordinated with the Government of Saudi Arabia, and the UAE Air Force aircraft staged over the Kingdom, en route to Egypt, using UAE AF Airbus A330 MRTT aerial refueling aircraft to reach, it is understood, Mersa Ma- truh Air Base or another forward Egyptian Air Force base, from which the strikes were then made on the Libyan targets.  

The first wave of strikes. on August 18, 2014, hit militia groups; the second wave on August 23, 2014. targeted Qatari-supplied rocket launchers and military vehicles owned by the militias. The strikes were insufficient to blunt the mainly Misrata-based militia forces of the Islamist-dominated Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) coalition which, a day later (August 24, 2014), overran Tripoli Airport, taking it from the control of the Zintan militia. [Fajr Libya also controls some 80 percent of Benghazi, although the residents of that city and surrounds have traditionally been hostile to the salafist tenets promoted by the group.] The UAE strikes also hit at Ansar al-Sharia, another extremist Islamist group, ostensibly condemned by Washington, but benefiting from Washington’s position.  

The new Government was aware — and supportive — of the combined military actions of the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to strike at the Islamist militias.  

On August 25, 2014, the US, France, Germany, Italy and the UK governments issued a joint statement denouncing “outside interference” in Libya which it said “exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic transition”, failing to highlight the reality that the US has, since 2011, provided the main umbrella for outside interference in Libya affairs, and continued to support the Qatari-led efforts currently underway.  

At the same time, with US encouragement, the former Islamist-dominated Parliament — which no longer had a mandate — was reconvened on August 25, 2014, and voted to disband the interim Government, even though the new Government had been voted into place by opponents of the Islamists. But the newly-elected Parliament — not the one controlled by the Islamists — continued to meet in Tobruk, in Cyrenaica, away from the militias. That Parliament on August 24, 2014, dismissed the Army Chief of Staff and, with a vote of 88 out of 124 parliamentarians, installed a new one, Col. Abdel Razzak Nadhuri, who was promoted to general when he took up his new role. He replaced Gen. Abdessalam Jadallah al-Obeidi, who was dismissed by Parliament. Gen. Nadhuri, from the town of Marj, 1,100km (600 miles) east of Tripoli, took up his post as Libya’s Foreign Minister and his regional counterparts met in Cairo to discuss the Islamist threat.

Gen. Nadhuri has been known for his support for the anti-Islamist Operation Karama (Dignity), led by retired Gen. Khalifa Haftar. In the first reactions to Nadhuri’s appointment, several military generals affiliated with the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced their rejection of the Parliament’s appointment of Nadhuri declaring that “they refuse to work under the command of an officer who supports Operation Karama, and that they will only recognize Gen. al-Obeidi as chief of staff”.  

The interim Government itself was unable to return to Tripoli as a result of the fighting, and had been holding its meetings in the eastern city of Bayda.  

But on August 25, 2014, the interim General National Congress (GNC), which had been officially replaced earlier in August 2014 by the new Parliament, named an Islamist figure, Omar al-Hassi, to form a rival “salvation government”, which was being given credence by, for example, the US Government over the Government elected by Libyan voters in August 2014.  

The situation, then, was that Lib- ya now had two parliaments and two governments, but only the Tripoli- based Parliament had electoral legitimacy with its Government led by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani.  

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sam- eh Shukri was quoted on August 25, 2014, as saying that the situation in Libya threatened the entire region and other parts of the world, noting: “The developments in Libya have left an impact we have felt on the security of neighboring countries, with the presence and movement of extremist and terrorist groups whose activists are not only limited to the Libyan territories but also spill over to neighboring countries.” He also said that a spillover of lawlessness from Libya could prompt foreign intervention in Libya, but hoped that this could be avoided.  

The combined stance by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE has further demonstrated the division of these onetime US allies away from Washington. To emphasize the point, Egyptian Pres. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on August 24, 2014, to local news media that Qatar, Turkey, the United States, and the Muslim Brotherhood were funding new online media projects which “aim to undermine Egypt’s stability”. These powers, he said, “do not hesitate to spend tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions [of dollars], on these websites in order to promote ideas that aim to undermine Egypt’s stability”. Ironically, the news came out at the same time that the Obama Administration announced the development of a new government program to track “hate speech” on social media in the US.  

The US is moving closer to alienating key regional allies (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) in order to support Turkey’s and Qatar’s objectives in Libya, without defining the strategic goals for the US and the West. Already the Egyptian bloc is at war with Turkey and Qatar.

Analysis. From GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs sources in several Libyan locations.




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