Manish Rai | Oped Column Magazine
It’s only a matter of time when Khalifa Haftar takes over Tripoli and announces his complete military victory.
- The EU’s new naval mission to implement the UN arms embargo will only deal with the Libyan maritime borders used primarily by the Turks to send military supplies to the GNA. On the contrary, Egypt and UAE will be able to continue sending Khalifa Haftar all the supplies from Libyan eastern border with Egypt through land route.
- Khalifa Haftar blocked some oil terminals, depriving the Turkey-backed GNA from a revenue of close to US$4 billion, which was used primarily to buy loyalty of different GNA-allied militias.
- Crime, insecurity and corruption have been on the rise in the western Libya, which largely falls within the GNA’s sphere of influence. This deteriorating situation could go in Haftar’s favour.
The Libyan conflict that started as a mere civil war has turned into a regional proxy war, bringing foreign powers into the equation and foreign fighters into the battlefield. The conflict has become more complicated by the day.
Already a year has passed since Khalifa Haftar-led Libyan National Army (LNA) has launched an offensive on Tripoli, which is under the control of the Government of National Accord (GNA).
Neither side has managed to make breakthroughs and gain any sizable territories. Although the LNA took the strategic coastal city of Sirte 500 km east of Tripoli in January this year, they’ve failed to make any further gains on the road to the capital.
Even if the LNA had advanced beyond its current positions west of Sirte, it would still have to deal with formidable city of Misrata in the western Libya. Dominated by anti-Haftar forces, Misrata enjoys direct access to Turkish arms, drones, mercenaries and ammunition.
Despite this, Khalifa Haftar still remains the most dominant player in Libyan political landscape. After all, the Haftar controls up to 80 percent of the Libyan territory at this point in time.
However, the Tripoli-based GNA is still holding on to the capital with Turkey’s mammoth support. That could change too, as some recent developments might well give a big push to Haftar’s Tripoli offensive.
In late-March, the European Union (EU) announced the launch of a new naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea. This mission solely aimed at enforcing the United Nations (UN) arms embargo on Libya. The new mission named Irini, the Greek word for “peace”, will continue for a year.
The core task of this mission will be the implementation of the UN arms embargo through the use of various resources including aerial, satellite and maritime assets. Moreover, the mission will have power to carry out inspections of vessels, which are suspected to be carrying arms or war supplies to and from Libya, on the high-seas off the coast of Libya.
The ongoing Libyan conflict has developed into a proxy war among different regional players. It no more a local conflict.
On the one side, Turkey is supporting Tripoli-based GNA and sending them armed drones, thousands of Syrian mercenaries, intelligence personnel, air defence systems and artillery. On the other side, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt are firmly backing Haftar since the year 2014 with arms, airstrikes and funds.
The continued supply of weapons, ammunition and military equipment from foreign powers has contributed in prolonging the Libyan conflict. However, the EU’s new naval mission will change the equations in Haftar’s favour.
There are two main entry points for military supplies to Libya. Turkey uses the western maritime border in Mediterranean to ship in weapons to the GNA in Tripoli. Egypt and the UAE uses the eastern border to support Haftar.
The EU’s new naval mission will only deal with the Libyan maritime borders used primarily by the Turks. On the contrary, Khalifa Haftar’s allies will be able to continue sending him all the supplies from Libyan eastern border with Egypt through land route.
What’s more, Haftar’s LNA has recently managed to block some oil terminals, depriving the Turkey-backed GNA from its revenue. This revenue was crucial for GNA, as the revenue was used primarily to buy loyalty of different allied militias who are fighting on its behalf. This blockade so far has cost the GNA close to US$4 billion, according to the National Oil Corporation which manages and overseas Libya’s oil production.
There’s another factor that could well go in Haftar’s favour in near future: the steadily deteriorating situation in the western Libya, which largely falls within the GNA’s sphere of influence. Crime, insecurity and corruption have been on the rise even in the capital Tripoli.
The living conditions have markedly worsened due to the struggling local economy. The social and health services are nearly collapsed. Already, the capital is divided between different militias with different vested interests. What’s worse, the GNA itself is weak and corrupt to control these militias.
Haftar is trying to project himself as the only capable force who could unite the country and bring back stability and order. Haftar’s foreign backers carried out a massive campaign to build up this saviour image. Consequently, a significant number of Libyans now see Haftar as the only person who can bring-about some form of order in their lawless, chaotic country.
Moreover, Khalifa Haftar clearly understands region-, city-, tribe-, political factions-, ethnicity- and militia-based different dynamics of power in Libya. That is why, Haftar is trying to gain support from major tribes, such as Magharba, Baraasa, Hasa, Obaidat and, to a some extend, Zintan, which has the most powerful tribal militia called Zintani brigades.
Considering all the aforementioned developing scenarios in the ongoing Libyan conflict, it appears that it is only a matter of time when Khalifa Haftar takes over Tripoli and announces his complete military victory.
Once he take over Tripoli, Haftar should immediately start working for a durable political arrangement. For this purpose, Haftar should reach a comprehensive political settlement with all Libyan political parties, tribes and the important forces on the ground. Only after achieving such durable political arrangement, Khalifa Haftar can claim any complete victory in real sense.
Manish Rai is a columnist for Middle East and Af-Pak region and Editor of geopolitical news agency Viewsaround.