By Mahmoud Gamal
Since Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi came to power in Egypt after the military coup that he led against the first elected civilian president, Dr. Mohamed Morsi, on July 3, 2013, he has been working to change the doctrine of the Egyptian army.
After the Zionist entity had been the first enemy of the Egyptian army, groups and movements, specifically political Islam movements, have become the primary and direct enemy of the Egyptian army.
In addition, Al-Sisi has since been working to abort the Arab Spring revolutions in the region in general, lining up with the Saudi-Emirati axis that share the same goal, and this was one of the most important reasons that motivated the Sisi regime to adopt provision of full support to the Khalifa Haftar project in Libya.
In February 2018, Libyan renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar commented on his relationship with Sisi in an interview with “John Africa”, a French magazine, saying: “Our positions are actually close, and the situation of his country when he came to power is similar to that of Libya today,” adding: “Our great enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood, threatens our countries and our African and European neighbors alike.”
First: The basic motives governing the Egyptian role in Libya
1) Countering political Islam and Arab revolutions
Al-Sisi’s policy towards Libya comes in the context of strengthening pillars of his rule in Egypt through ensuring that the Islamists, whom he thinks are the real threat to his regime, do not reach power in Libya.
In addition to the fact that since access to power in Egypt Al-Sisi has been working to abort the Arab Spring revolutions in the region in general, where the Emirati regime under MBZ and the Saudi regime under MBS line up with him in such attitude.
2) The functional role
The Egyptian military intervention in Libya comes within the framework of the functional role played by Egypt under Sisi in the international security strategies in the region.
The ruling military regime in Egypt is betting on the importance of the Egyptian role, specifically the Egyptian army, regardless of compliance or conflict with the Egyptian national interests, as it only cares about what serves the stability and survival of the regime.
In this sense, it is, for example, compatible with the French and Russian goals in Libya and plays roles within the framework of achieving these goals.
3) Supporting the military individual, not the democratic institution
One of the main determinants that motivated al-Sisi to support Khalifa Haftar in Libya is the “individual military ruler” policy that he adopts and has sought to establish in Egypt from the early moments of his access to power – not the rule of institutions that require participation of a number of State institutions in governance and decision-making>
Therefore, Sisi has sought to establish such model also in Libya through providing support to Khalifa Haftar, to facilitate controlling and guiding it to serve the required roles.
4) Facilitating access to petroleum products
One of the most important determinants that has driven Al-Sisi to support Khalifa Haftar is to secure access to petroleum products available in Libya with preferential prices on a continued basis in case of occurrence of any sudden fuel crisis or shortage in Egypt, given that the forces of Khalifa Haftar control the four most important ports that handle petroleum products (Sidra, Ras Lanuf, Zueitina and Brega) in the oil crescent region in eastern Libya.
When the Saudi state-owned Aramco stopped supplying Egypt with oil products in early October 2016, the outgoing pro-Haftar parliament said Libya was ready to provide Egypt’s oil needs, and MP Ziyad Deghaim announced that the parliament asked its affiliate (pro-Haftar) government to supply Egypt with necessary oil shipments free of charge.
5) The concept of conflict with Turkey instead of cooperation
Some believe that one of the determinants that have recently led the Egyptian regime to become more involved in the Libyan file is the direct entry of the Turkish side into the Libyan arena to support the legitimate Government of National Accord (GNA) of Fayez al-Sarraj in Tripoli with Turkish military forces as well as supply of weapons, in addition to concluding an agreement to demarcate the maritime borders between the Turkish State and the legitimate GNA in Tripoli.
The Abdel Fattah al-Sisi regime is part of the Saudi-Emirati alliance which aims primarily to confront the Turkish-Qatari alliance that supports Arab revolutions in general, considering it a threat to their strategic interests in the region.
This concept comes as a substitute for joint cooperation with Turkey that is more likely to fulfill Egypt’s interests.
For example, the terms of the Turkish-Libyan agreement on demarcation of maritime borders are in favor of Egypt, where it allows restoring a significant amount of Egypt’s economic waters.
Therefore, the Egyptian regime has sought provision of all forms of support to Haftar during the past six years, which will be addressed hereunder.
Second: Forms of Egyptian support to Khalifa Haftar
1) Arms Supplies
Since Khalifa Haftar launched Operation Dignity in mid-2014 in Libya, the extent of military cooperation and rapprochement between Egypt and the forces affiliated with Khalifa Haftar has become apparent.
The Egyptian support varied from training and supply of weapons to participation of Egyptian forces in military operations on the ground, in addition to carrying out air strikes jointly with the Emirati forces on the Libyan territories in the eastern, western and southern regions.
In March 2015, a UN report revealed that there were arms smuggled to Libya by Egypt and the UAE, accusing the forces led by Khalifa Haftar of complicating the political transition and increasing security problems in the country.
The long report spoke about arms smuggling, not only including the transfer of ammunition and weapons, but also the transfer of Egyptian combat aircraft to Libya as well.
Regarding violations of the UN arms embargo, the report said that the UAE illegally exported weapons to Libya, including military equipment to the eastern city of Tobruk in late 2014.
The report also confirmed transfer of warplanes owned by Egypt to the Libyan Air Force after deliberately hiding their appearance and original identity.
The report also indicated that Egypt provided military support to Haftar’s Operation Dignity and the dissolved Parliament in Tobruk.
According to informed military sources from the Egyptian and Libyan sides, the Egyptian army has been transporting Egyptian-made and Emirati-made military equipment, including heavy and light equipment, to Khalifa Haftar’s forces, since May 2014.
Sometimes this equipment was transported by air and sometimes by land from the Egyptian western military zone adjacent to the Libyan-Egyptian border.
One of the tasks of the commanders of the Egyptian western military zone was to secure and facilitate the process of moving military equipment to Libyan territory.
Among the most important leaders who performed these tasks were:
– Maj. General Staff Mohamed al-Masry, former commander of the western military zone, and current chief of operations of the armed forces.
– Major General Staff Wahid Ezzat, the former western military zone commander.
– Major General Staff Sharif Bishara, the former western military zone commander and current head of Nasser military academy.
– Major General Staff Salah Saraya, the present commander of the western military zone.
– Major-General Staff Mohamed Said al-Assar, former head of the Armament Authority and current Minister of Military Production.
– Major General Staff Abdel Mohsen Mousa, former head of the Armament Authority.
– Major General Staff Tariq Saad Zaghloul, head of the Armament Authority.
2) Decisive Egyptian Role in Controlling the Libyan East
On October 15, 2014, and a few months after the beginning of Operation Dignity in Libya, the Associated Press (AP), reported involvement of Egyptian aircraft in the bombing of Islamist militias in Libya’s second city, Benghazi. However, Egypt’s presidential spokesperson denied the claims.
The AP reported that two Egyptian government officials said their country’s warplanes bombed positions of Islamist militias in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
The two Egyptian officials, who have first-hand knowledge of the operation, said the use of the aircraft was part of an Egyptian-led operation against the militiamen that involved Libyan ground troops.
The two officials spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The Associated Press pointed out that Libyan lawmaker Tareq al-Jorushi confirmed to the AP that Egyptian warplanes were taking part in the ongoing operation in Benghazi but added that they were being flown by Libyan pilots.
In August 2014, the New York Times quoted four senior American officials as saying that Egypt and the UAE “had secretly launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli… in a major escalation of a regional power struggle set off by Arab Spring revolts.”
In addition, the Egyptian Air Force on February 16, 2015 conducted an airstrike against an Islamist stronghold in Libya in retaliation for the beheading of at least a dozen Egyptian Christians by a local franchise of the Islamic State.
Sources said, the air strike was carried out according to a security and information coordination between Egypt and Libya, where the Egyptian Military Intelligence identified the IS sites and targets that were bombed by F-16 fighters that had taken off from Sidi Barani Airport, west of Cairo, and then arrived at Matrouh Airport>
The F-16s set off to the required targets, hitting Islamic State camps, training sites and weapons storage areas in Libya ISIS sites, weapons depots, and ammunition sites, as well as a farm where IS operatives used to gather, as well as an area called “Bo-Msafir Forest.
In another context, a military source from the Libya Dawn forces loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) revealed arrival of military reinforcements for Haftar’s forces during 2014 as grants from Egypt, UAE and Jordan.
The Egyptian-Emirati support focused from the beginning on Haftar’s control of the entire eastern region, but the battles on the ground did not indicate that Haftar had been capable of achieving a military victory and in 2017.
Haftar almost retreated significantly after his control of most of the eastern region, where only 25% of the Libyan population reside, unlike western Libya, where 75% of the population live.
However, with more extensive military intervention from Egypt, UAE, and Russia, including Emirati-Russian-Egyptian aircraft’s intense attacks on sites of anti-Haftar armed groups, this was a decisive factor for the forces of Haftar to control eastern Libya.
It is worth noting that the Emirati and Egyptian air attacks are launched from the Egyptian Sidi Barani base located in the western military zone.
to continue in part 2
Mahmoud Gamal is a researcher and director of the Monitoring and Documentation Unit at the Egyptian Institute for Political and Strategic Studies (EIPSS).