Libya Tribune

By Célian Macé

For 365 days, rebel marshal Khalifa Haftar has been trying to seize the Libyan capital. In recent weeks, new clashes have broken out around the city.

A year ago today, Marshal Khalifa Haftar ordered his troops to assault Tripoli, to cleanse it of “terrorists” and deliver its “corrupt institutions”, hostages of “militias” in the capital.

The “corrupt institutions”, ie the government of national unity resulting from the peace agreement sponsored by the UN, and the Libyan Central Bank, key organ of the redistribution of the oil manna, are always in place after twelve months of fighting.

Haftar stubbornly refuses to recognize their authority. The “militias”, cumbersome legacy of revolutionary armed groups who overthrew the Gaddafi regime in 2011, joined forces to repel the offensive of Marshal’s self-proclaimed “Libyan Arab national army”.

Despite their divisions, they hold on. As for “terrorists”, this is the term that Khalifa Haftar usually uses to designate (and disqualify) all of his enemies.

“Neither of the two camps is today capable of achieving a definitive victory: as expected, there will be no military solution to this conflict,” explains Ali Bensaâd, professor at the French Institute of Geopolitics. ‘However, some capitals are still struggling to admit it. ”

After a year of confrontation, the front line has moved little, but the war has however seen an escalation in resources committed and outside intervention .

The United Arab Emirates, in particular, began by supporting Khalifa Haftar’s forces by providing them with air support as early as the summer. 

Turkey responded by deploying drones, and then signing a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation with the government of national unity on November 27, which enabled it to send military advisers to Tripoli.

Russia, through the private security company Wagner, which dispatched several hundred mercenaries to Libya, in turn joined the dance in the fall, alongside Haftar.

Sudanese, Chadian and Syrian fighters are also employed in this proxy war. “To the point that in 2020, foreign powers play a more important role on the ground than the Libyans themselves”, says an observer in Tripoli.

Arms deliveries

The diplomatic initiative of Angela Merkel, who had brought the foreign protagonists of the Libyan conflict to Berlin on January 19, has fizzled. 

Admittedly, the summit resulted in the vote of a symbolic resolution of the Security Council of the United Nations calling for a cease-fire, on February 13, but in fact, the foreign sponsors did not give up anything of their support.

The arms embargo on Libya is violated with full knowledge and in plain sight. Armored vehicles, cases of ammunition, batches of automatic weapons are delivered every week to the ports of Misrata and Tripoli, to reinforce the loyalist forces, or the airports of Cyrenaica, in the east of the country, under the control of the National Libyan Army of Haftar.

On March 31, the European Union announced the launch of a military operation in the Mediterranean to ensure compliance with this embargo.

Baptized Irini (“peace” in Greek), it replaced since Wednesday Operation Sophia, whose mandate was to fight against human trafficking. “Irini is a good idea in principle.

But in reality, this naval operation will not solve anything at all since the vast majority of the weapons which arrive in Libya do not pass by the sea, warns Tarek Megerisi, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, in a tribune published Friday on the site EU Observe.

They are either delivered by air on request from the United Arab Emirates, or conveyed by land border with Egypt. The only foreign actor who uses ships to transport arms to Libya is Turkey, in application of the defense protocol it has signed with the government of national unity. ”

The Irini operation risks being “biased”, judge Ali Bensaâd, in particular because of the “lobbying of Paris”, one of the main protectors of Haftar on the diplomatic scene.

Emmanuel Macron once again received the boiling marshal at the Elysée on March 9. No press release was published after the meeting.

“Irini is not 100% of the solution but it is part of the solution, ” insisted Josep Borell, the EU High Representative, when announcing its launch. It is not just a naval operation. There are naval means, air means and satellite means. ”

Simultaneous breakthrough

Another disappointed hope: the interlibyan peace negotiations started in Geneva in the wake of the Berlin summit, which quickly got bogged down.

The United Nations special envoy, Ghassan Salamé, ended up throwing in the towel after more than two years of effort, torpedoed by States sometimes themselves members of the Security Council.

“Don’t let the stories about Russian, Turkish or Emirati interference fool you,” Wolfram Lacher, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs , reminds on Twitter.

This war started, and continues, because the Europeans and the Americans did not make any significant efforts to stop it. Regional powers intervene in Libya because they can. Nobody stops them. ”

In recent weeks, clashes have resumed in Libya, burying the precarious truce that came into effect on January 12 under the auspices of Ankara and Moscow.

She had never really been respected anyway. Pro-government forces attempted to make a simultaneous breakthrough on several fronts in Tripolitania on March 25.

It targeted in particular the air base of Al-Watiya, in the west, crucial for the operations of the Libyan national army, and the lock of Abu Grein, in the east, on the coastal axis Misrata-Syrte.

The death toll, which the two sides say is high, was not released, but Haftar’s troops resisted the attack, “uncoordinated” according to a military source, and immediately launched a counter-offensive.

In the southern suburbs of Tripoli, his men even nibbled on ground. Bombing and missile fire on both sides intensified as the technological escalation between the Turks and the Emiratis progressed.

Cement

“Haftar wants to Ras Jedir border post of Tunisia, and cut off the supply of capital,” provides military loyalist. For three months, the marshal, who controls the area of the oil crescent and several exploitation sites, has also turned off the black gold valve, blocking exports on which the Libyan state budget depends almost exclusively. 

“With the plunge in the price of a barrel at the global level, the international community does not care about Libyan oil,” notes Ali Bensaad. Haftar takes the opportunity to try to suffocate the Tripoli institutions financially.”

Tension has been mounting in recent days between Prime Minister Faïez el-Serraj and the powerful governor of the Central Bank, Sadiq al-Kabir. The fragile, weak and divided government of national unity is struggling to hold on to its international legitimacy.

On the military level, the various armed factions of Tripolitania, autonomous and with divergent interests, do not respond to a centralized chain of command either.

Their only cement is the common hostility of a part of the inhabitants of Tripolitania towards Haftar, widely perceived as a counter-revolutionary autocrat.

Enough to hold? Failing to break the siege of the capital by force, the marshal and his allies are now betting on a collapse of the interior, political and economic, of Tripoli.

___________