«Libya — stalemate turns into an endgame»

After the restoration of the power of the Government of National Accord (PNS) in the west of Libya, led by Fayez Sarraj (PNS), a stalemate developed in the country. Neither the PNS, nor the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar, can defeat the enemy without external support.

In other words, military-political events in Libya are developing in the direction of the actual division of the country. This is evidenced by the statement of the Minister of Internal Affairs of the PNS, Fathi Bashagha. The most influential politician of the PNS noted that, based on the impasse in Libya, the government is ready to go to the partition of the country in the western part, which Tripoli intends to keep, and the eastern, controlled by Benghazi.

The intensification of hostilities recognized by the international community of PNS or VLA will only lead to a deterioration in their current situation. External geopolitical players are using their military-political resource in the Libyan direction. In this situation, the warring parties of the Libyan civil war are doomed to resume negotiations on the basis of the decisions of the Berlin Conference held in January 2020.

West East

The main players in the Libyan negotiation process are Russia and Turkey. This is indicated by the following symbolic events: April 8 of this year Russia blocked the UN Security Council resolution, which called on H. Haftar to stop the offensive on Tripoli, which began on April 4, 2020; Russian “PMC Wagner” contributed to the forces of the LNA to reach the borders of Tripoli.

In turn, Turkey sent more than 10 thousand militants of anti-government groups to Syria from Libya (“Al-Mutasim Division”, “Sultan Murad Brigade”, “Sukur al-Shamal”). Four Turkish URO frigates in a powerful anti-air configuration took positions along the Mediterranean coast (they blocked the Libyan airspace along the inhabited coastal zone in the Tripoli region). In recent battles, Turkish air and radio intelligence monitored the formations of the VLA. In the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, a Boeing E-7T long-range radar detection and control aircraft of the Turkish Air Force was deployed. Using the data obtained from him on the objects of the army of H. Haftar, strikes were made by Turkish Bayraktar TB2 UAVs, plus heavy drones of long-term patrol in the Anka-S strike variant.

The active use of Turkish UAVs began to change the balance of forces on the ground and air in favor of the PNS due to massive air strikes, primarily on the rear communications of the troops of H. Haftar.

The armed formations of the PNS on June 5 this year took the strategically important city and Tarhun airbase. The forces of the LNA left it almost without a fight. Thus, the battle of Tripoli was finally completed, the loss of Tarhuna became a major defeat for the army of H. Haftar, who lost the strategically important air base in Tripolitania.

Paradoxically, however, this event does not lead to a radical change in the balance of power between the warring parties. PNS do not have sufficient resources to take the loyal LNA Libyan region of Cyrenaica. The PNS is supported by the militiamen of Misurata and Zawiya, which gives F. Sarraj against the backdrop of Turkish support to keep the Tripoli metropolis, but obviously does not create real opportunities for establishing real control over the whole of Libya in the future.

In Libya, the goal of both the PNS and the LNA is obvious — full control over the entire territory of the country. But, despite significant military-technical foreign assistance from the geopolitical actors of the PNS (Turkey, Qatar, and also partly Italy and the USA) and the LNA (Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, KSA, Jordan, Russia and partly Israel, France), F. Sarraj and H. Haftar will not be able to unite Libya and become the sole ruler of the country.

As a result of a 10-year civil war, relations between different tribes in Libya escalated to the limit, so the unification of the country by purely military means will become bloody with all the ensuing negative consequences for all direct and indirect participants. Therefore, there are no special prerequisites for the further escalation of the civil war in Libya, since France, Germany, the USA, Russia and Turkey are not interested in implementing such a scenario.

The prospect of resuming negotiations between Tripoli and Benghazi is indicated by the fact that Russia and Turkey have managed to reach some compromises on the Libyan crisis. As part of maintaining a balance of forces along the West (Tripoli) — East (Benghazi) line, Russia, under pressure, actually withdrew the Wagner PMA strike group to the oil-bearing south, which removed the threat of a direct military clash between Russia and Turkey in Libya from the agenda.

It should be noted that the PNS forces could develop their success in the west of Libya and transfer the fighting to the east of the country. After all, Turkey could start air operations in the territories controlled by the LNA. We are talking about missile strikes at the headquarters of H. Haftar and the LNA facilities in Benghazi and Tobruk. However, official Ankara did not take the above steps.

In this regard, the following point is noteworthy. Thus, the African command of the US Army reported that official Moscow organized the dispatch of 14 MiG-29 and Su-24 (the chain of intermediary and accessory are not essential here) to support Wagner PMC from the air. Russian planes are the message of the Turkish Kremlin that official Ankara, on the one hand, should not change the balance of forces along the West-East line, and on the other, it is advisable to start direct negotiations between Tripoli and Benghazi. Moreover, there are historical prerequisites for this: at one time the Ottoman Empire divided Libya into two parts, one of which was subordinated to Tripoli, the other, eastern — Benghazi. A division that largely reflects the current split line between the PNS and the East Libyan Provisional Government.

End of the game?

It can be stated that Russia and Turkey decided to restart the Berlin process in such a way as to play leading roles in it. It should be recalled that the presidents of Russia and Turkey held a telephone conversation in mid-May, in which the parties noted «the need for an early resumption of an indefinite truce and inter-Libyan dialogue based on the decisions of the Berlin Conference.»

After the liberation of Tripoli Airport from the LNA, H. Haftar went to Cairo, and the head of the PNS F. Sarraj went to Ankara. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his deputy Mikhail Bogdanov held talks with the PNS delegation in the person of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maytig and Foreign Minister Mohammed Tahir Siyala.

The visit of the PNS delegation means that official Moscow seeks to maintain its role in the east of Libya without tying it to H. Haftar. In turn, R.T. Erdogan at a joint press conference with F. Sarraj on June 4 in Ankara indicated that H. Haftar could not take part in the negotiations on the Libyan conflict.

After the ensuing series of military failures of H. Haftar in April-May, it became obvious that Russian influence on the commander of the LNA was limited. H. Haftar has more hope in Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Turkey’s military-political presence in Tripoli is a threat to Egypt. However, H. Haftar, having become toxic in Tripoli, Ankara, Europe and to some extent in Moscow, is not considered such in Cairo. It was in Cairo that H. Haftar demanded that the provisions of the collective defense treaty of the Arab states be applied to counter Turkish military intervention in Libya. He also demanded to lift the embargo on the supply of armaments of the LNA, as well as carry out international monitoring to prevent the entry of weapons from Turkey to Libya.

And the President of Egypt, AF As-Sisi, announced a new Cairo initiative for a ceasefire in Libya, which provides for a halt to hostilities from June 8 in all of Libya and the conditions for a political settlement of the conflict.

The announcement was preceded by a meeting of the President of Egypt with H. Haftar and Speaker of the Parliament in Tobruk Agila Saleh.

In accordance with the “Cairo Initiative” (already rejected by the PNS), the LNA should play an important role in “the fight against terrorism and the protection of Libyan sovereignty along with other security agencies and the police.” The Presidential Council will be able to make the most important decisions in the field of defense only together with the LNA Commander-in-Chief (i.e., H. Haftar), the document states.

«We warn all parties in Libya against intentions to continue to resolve the conflict in the country by military means,» said the President of Egypt. And in order to exert pressure on Tripoli and Turkey, the Armed forces of Egypt are transferring troops to the border with Libya. This is taking place against the backdrop of the announcement of the new Cairo Initiative. Thus, Egypt demonstrates support for the LNA and H. Haftaru, who recently suffered a series of defeats. Official Cairo declared its rejection of foreign interference in Libyan affairs and assured H. Haftar that Egypt «will not allow any threat to its western borders.»

It should be noted that V. Putin, in a telephone conversation with A.F. as-Sisi, supported the initiative of the President of Egypt, which also demonstrates a split among geopolitical actors on the Libyan crisis. R.T. Erdogan and D. Trump conducted telephone conversations and reached certain agreements on Libya. Earlier, the United States called on Turkey to stop drilling operations at a gas field in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus.

In other words, Egypt has begun to create an alliance against Turkey, which includes Greece, Cyprus, the UAE and France, to counter Turkey’s actions in Libya and the Mediterranean. The declaration of union was made during a virtual meeting with the foreign ministers of these countries on May 11, 2020. During the meeting of the African Union Contact Group on Libya on May 19 this year AF.-Sisi said that «stability in Libya is a determining factor in the national security of Egypt and it will not tolerate terrorist groups and those who support them.»

In Europe and the Arab countries, they do not accept the bilateral agreement concluded in December 2019 between Turkey and the PNS on the delimitation of maritime borders in the Mediterranean Sea. For many years, Turkey has been in conflict with Greece and Cyprus over rights in the Eastern Mediterranean. By not being a party to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Turkey does not recognize the vast territorial shelf and exclusive economic zones granted to the islands under the UN Convention.

The indicated Turkish-Libyan agreement allows Turkey to be unblocked and its application for a fairer (in Ankara’s logic) distribution of marine resources in the Eastern Mediterranean can be supported. Indeed, in accordance with the agreement, Turkey considers its exclusive economic zone the space of the Eastern Mediterranean right up to the Libyan economic zone. For example, it is not possible today to lay a gas pipeline along the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, without consulting the official Ankara. By the way, the United States has already called on Turkey to stop drilling operations at a gas field in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus.

In addition, Egypt, the KSA and the UAE support H. Haftar, fearing that the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood political and military organization recognized by Cairo as a terrorist organization in Libya will increase its influence. Neighboring with Libya, Algeria and Tunisia, traditionally oriented towards France, previously did not allow Turkey to transfer troops through its territory. RT Erdogan wants to concentrate all power in Libya in the hands of a friendly government in Turkey, which could help restore the power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Therefore, Turkey risks a direct military clash with a coalition of Arab and European states. Greek National Defense Minister Nikos Panayotopoulos has already said that Greece is ready for everything, including military action against Turkey, to protect its sovereign rights. In such a situation, the military-technical and financial forces of Turkey are limited. Moreover, France joined the alliance with the aim of preserving its interests in Libya, which are threatened by Turkey and its support for the PNS. France will strive to constantly maintain and strengthen the alliance. At the same time, for France and Germany in the Libyan issue, the first place is not oil, but the migration potential of the country’s ports for the transfer of illegal migrants to the EU. For example, during the migration crisis of 2015, hundreds of thousands of migrants leaked through the territory of Libya to Germany.

The main priorities of France during the presidency of the UN Security Council in June will be, including security issues in Africa. In other words, the Libyan crisis. And the UN Security Council of June 5, 2020 unanimously adopted a resolution to extend for another year the term of the ban on arms supplies to Libya. This will allow states to inspect ships on the high seas off the coast of Libya, if there are suspicions of violation of the embargo. This factor objectively complicates the task of Turkey in further military support to the PNS.

It should also be borne in mind that the Italian government is going to approve the sale to Egypt of dozens of frigates, naval patrol boats, training aircraft and fighter jets. For Italy, this could be a «deal of the century», which has great commercial, industrial and political significance. Italy also wants to strengthen relations with Egypt. Although, Italy and Egypt support different sides of the armed conflict in Libya.

The international community does not have the necessary unanimity and political will to “impose peace”, including the “Cairo Initiative”, on the parties to the conflict. There can be no talk of any large-scale peacekeeping operation under the auspices of the UN or another international organization (UAE, LAS, NATO and the EU) in Libya.

At the same time, Russia and Egypt, fearing US activation in Libya and Turkey’s unpredictability, will begin to build a dialogue with France, Germany and Italy with a view to resuming the Berlin political process. Accordingly, the practical task facing France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Russia, the USA, Turkey and Egypt is to stop the supply of PNS and LNA armaments as part of the arms embargo; a ban on PMCs and the transfer of mercenaries from Syria. After solving this problem, the Berlin political process can be launched, since the Cairo Initiative is more focused on maintaining the status quo along the West — East line.

Meanwhile, ongoing Turkish-Russian talks are failing. The PNS forces from Tripoli, with the support of Turkey, are swaying at the city of Sirte in northeastern Libya. In parallel, an aggravation is again emerging in Syria in the Idlib region. Situational unions, depending on the results of hostilities, will be frustrated more than once …

Rauf Rajabov, Orientalist, Head of Analytical Center 3RD VIEW, Baku, Azerbaijan


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